Have you ever noticed that your sleep patterns change as the weather gets warmer? Maybe you were going to bed at 10 p.m., but now you don’t feel sleepy until closer to midnight. You might still rise at your regular wake-up time or get up even earlier — closer to sunrise. If this describes your sleep patterns during the warmer months, you’re not alone. Research suggests that we tend to sleep less as the days get longer and hotter.
Seasonal sleep patterns have been recognized since ancient times, and countless researchers have devoted their careers to studying the topic. But there’s still a lot that we don’t know about seasonal sleep. One thing we do know — our sleep needs don’t change along with the seasons.
In fact, scientists say that the amount of sleep we need each night mostly boils down to age and genetics. So, if you’re a healthy adult who needs nine hours of sleep to feel well-rested, that number shouldn’t change as the days get longer and brighter.
Thankfully, there is no shortage of products that can help us get the recommended amount of sleep in the summertime — from high-quality sleep masks that block out light to portable fans that help keep you cool. Ahead, we explain the reasons you might be sleeping less during the warmer months and how to improve your summer sleep for the better.
Reason #1: Warm Weather
The warmth of the summer air may feel good during the day, but at night, it can seriously mess with your slumber. A too-warm sleeping environment can make it difficult to get comfortable at night, causing you to toss and turn in your sleep.
Another reason it may be difficult to sleep is that heat interferes with your body’s natural cool-down process. At night, our core body temperature decreases by one or two degrees Fahrenheit to initiate sleep. If it’s too hot, your body temperature doesn’t experience that rapid drop in temperature. Consequently, you may not feel sleepy at your normal bedtime.
How to plan ahead: In the evening, turn the thermostat down to the mid-sixties. If you don’t have air conditioning, turn on the ceiling fan and make sure it’s set to blow air down on you (counter-clockwise).
Reason #2: Light Disruption
During the warmer months, the Northern Hemisphere tilts toward the sun, giving us longer days and lots of sunlight. All that extra daylight is a big plus for those with seasonal affective disorder, but it can also make it harder to snooze.
Exposure to bright light, particularly in the evening, keeps us awake by delaying the body’s melatonin production — the sleep hormone produced by the pineal gland in the brain. Conversely, the setting of the sun initiates melatonin production, making us feel tired and ready for bed.
How to plan ahead: Try to control your exposure to light in the evening with blackout curtains. Open them up first thing in the morning (exposure to early morning sunlight can help you sleep) and close them a few hours before bedtime. Alternatively, you can use a sleep mask to block sunlight. Sleep masks are particularly beneficial because they block all light, including light sources coming from inside the bedroom.
Reason #3: Stress
Despite the laidback pool parties and backyard barbecues, summertime can be surprisingly stressful. After all, we still have full-time jobs in the summer, and when we finally get around to taking a vacation, we often come back to an overflowing inbox. Tack on the increase in social activities and the pressure to look good in a bathing suit, and you have a recipe for uncontrolled stress.
How to plan ahead: Sleep is an effective stress reducer, but unfortunately, stress often gets in the way of a good night’s sleep. To encourage a restful night’s slumber in the warmer months, try winding down before bed with a weighted blanket. The soothing pressure from the blanket evokes the body’s calm response, reducing symptoms of anxiety such as fast heart rate and breathing.
Reason #4: Social Activities
With its comfortably warm evenings and extended hours of daylight, summer is the ideal time to stay up late and spend quality time with friends. Unfortunately, skipping your normal bedtime too often can lead to massive sleep debt. Sleep debt — the difference between the amount of sleep you need versus the amount of sleep you get — is notoriously difficult to pay off. It can also seriously affect your health and productivity, raising your risk of chronic illness and impairing your ability to work and drive.
Alcohol often goes hand-in-hand with these late-night festivities, further hurting your sleep quality and quantity during the warmer months.
How to plan ahead: If your friends keep pushing for late-night gatherings, try to suggest a daytime activity instead. Otherwise, be prepared to make some sacrifices. Give yourself a strict rule (i.e., “I can only stay up late one night per week”) and stick to it.
Reason #5: Allergies
The warmer months can be a mixed bag for people with allergies. On the one hand, the weather is gorgeous and it feels good to get outside. On the other hand, there’s more pollen in the air, which can mean lots of sneezing and late nights spent tossing and turning due to allergies.
How to plan ahead: If allergies are keeping you up at night, try to keep pollen outside of the bedroom as best you can. Keep the windows closed at night and wash your bedding regularly. It may also help to take a quick shower before you get into bed. If your allergies are especially bad, talk to your doctor about a prescription medication.
Don’t Let Summer Steal Your Sleep
It’s a common misconception that people need less sleep during the warmer months. The truth is, you need just as much sleep now as you did in the winter. Fortunately, there are many easy steps you can take to ensure you catch enough Zzzs this summer. The above tips are a good place to start!