Sun-filled vacations, backyard barbecues and long days at the beach: summer is jam-packed with calendar-consuming social events, easily making it the best time of year. That is, until night falls and it’s time to try and get some shut-eye. Even for those who usually have no trouble sleeping through the night, summer can be a trial, due to sweltering temps and long days conspiring to keep us up well beyond our bedtimes.
If summer has turned your dreamy night’s sleep into a nightmare, you’re actually in luck. We’ve partnered with Sleep Number to find out how to beat the heat all summer long in order to catch those much-needed Zs.
1. Long Days …
By this time of year, the sun doesn’t go down until after dinnertime, stymying your attempts to stick to a regular bedtime. It’s not just your imagination ― the long hours of daylight actually trick your brain into wanting to stay up later.
“Light is a strong trigger to delay sleep,” says Dr. Carl Bazil, neurology professor at Columbia University Medical Center, “especially in areas where daylight lasts quite late.”
The farther north you go (or, in the Southern Hemisphere in its summer, the farther south), the worse it gets, until it seems like it never really gets dark at all. For morning light, blackout shades or a sleep mask should help you get the extra sleep you need. But for long, bright evenings, Bazil recommends a solution straight out of an ‘80s pop classic: to help your brain wind down, wear your sunglasses at night.
2. … And Hot Nights
Nothing spoils a relaxing summer day quite like a hot, restless night. For those of us not blessed with central air conditioning, sleep gets harder as the mercury climbs. That’s because increasing body temperature is a signal to your system that it’s morning, Bazil says.
So, how do we convince our bodies that it’s still nighttime if we don’t have an A/C? You guessed it: fans on fans on fans. Ceiling fans are best, says dentist Mark Burhenne, who specializes in the relationship between healthy sleep and healthy bodies. “The movement of air will make it easier to sleep, allowing the body to perceive that it’s not sleeping in a stagnant or warm environment,” he says.
Plus, the A/C-free among us have something to can breathe easy about, he says. “Sleeping in an air-conditioned room may not be the best thing for your lungs, considering the dry and conditioned air.”
3. Sweaty Sheets
It’s hard enough to fall asleep in a hot room, but there’s nothing quite so unpleasant as waking in the middle of the night in a tangle of twisted, sweaty sheets. If you can’t cool your room, you could opt to cool your bed, says neurologist William Winter, who specializes in sleep medicine. To chill your bed, Winter says, consider using products such as an electric bed-cooling pad, moisture-wicking sheets or cooling pillows. These high-tech bedding materials are a step above the flipping-to-the-cool-side method; many use breathable synthetic fibers and gels to regulate temperature and absorb and disperse excess body heat.
For a quicker fix, consider switching to summer pajamas made of lightweight, natural fibers in a light color. It sounds counterintuitive, but sometimes more clothes means a cooler night’s sleep.
“Sometimes people go to bed naked in the summer, and because they perspire, they stick to the sheets,” Burhenne says. “I would recommend a synthetic polypropylene pajama that wicks away moisture, especially during those sweaty months. That way the sheets won’t stick to you.”
For the seriously heat-stifled, Winter has a last-ditch measure: “Simply stick your own pillow in the freezer,” he says. (Though we’d suggest you start by just icing down the pillowcase.)
4. Vacation Jet Lag
A summer trip abroad seems like a dream, until jet lag strikes. An unfamiliar bedroom and a drastic time change is perfect recipe for a sleep disruption that could take days, or even weeks, to correct.
“Some people sleep better on vacation and others sleep much worse,” says clinical psychologist Janet Kennedy, author of The Good Sleeper. “The real issue is your re-entry into normal life with real schedules and demands after vacation.”
To stay in sync, experts recommended keeping your body on your home time zone whenever possible. Sleep aromatherapist Hope Gillerman recommends using May Chang essential oil to help ease the effects of jet lag.
If you’re suffering from an upset stomach after traveling, Gillerman recommends peppermint diluted in grapeseed oil. “Apply over tummy,” she says, “and do stretches that twist the spine, causing a twist that relaxes the back and stimulates digestion.”
5. Hungry Mosquitoes
No matter how tightly you secure the screens in your windows, it seems like one mosquito always manages to make it inside for a midnight feast, and it only takes one quick bite to ruin your night.
“Mosquitoes can wake you up as they buzz in your ear,” Burhenne says. “When you get bitten at night, chances are your sleep is disrupted, as well, even if you don’t wake up.”
Nobody wants to go to sleep wearing bug spray, but Gillerman offers a trick that repels mosquitoes without irritating humans: catnip. Natural insect repellent containing catnip is perfect for snoozing humans, she says, “because it doesn’t contain peppermint, which could disturb sleep.”
6. Too Much Rosé (Yep, It’s A Thing)
As the nights get warmer, it’s tempting to fight fire with ice ― shaken, not stirred, and with a twist. And although it may make you sleepy, elevated alcohol consumption does not make for a good night’s sleep. “As the alcohol clears, it can have an alerting effect,” Bazil says, “and you will wake up earlier than you want to.”
If you’ve been invited to a summer party that’s too good to resist, consider the 1:1 method. “Have a glass of water for each drink of alcohol to avoid dehydration,” says dermatologist and psychologist Dr. Amy Wechsler. “Pace yourself.”
Most importantly, don’t forget the value in balancing social obligations and self care. “Going out every night will catch up with you, so it’s important to have some balance,” Kennedy says. “And don’t expect to dive into bed the second you get home. Your body and mind can’t switch off like a light. Allow some time to unwind and slow down ― even if it means getting slightly less sleep.” After all, the quality of your sack time may well matter as much if not more than the quantity.