How to sleep in hot weather

Man yawning in bed

Southern and eastern Britain has experienced a mini heat-wave. What's the best way to get to sleep on sticky nights?

The hot, humid weather across parts of Britain has made for uncomfortable nights. The Met Office says temperatures will now fall slightly but humidity will remain fairly high at 60-80%.

Humidity is a big part of the problem, making it hard for sweat to evaporate. For many, getting to sleep will have been sweaty and uncomfortable, closer to the climate people associate with Bangkok than Bangor, either Northern Ireland or Wales.

In places like the US, where powerful air conditioning units are reasonably common in houses in hot and humid areas, it's not so much of a concern.

But in places like the UK where it's hot and humid less frequently how should people ensure they get a good night's sleep?

Weather expert Philip Eden recommends a technique common in Mediterranean countries.

Sleep strategies

Man glimpsed through blinds

"As a species, we are diurnal," says Dr Malcolm von Schantz, a molecular neuroscientist at the University of Surrey's Sleep Centre.

"We have evolved to sleep in a consolidated way during the night, when it is cooler and darker. Too cold or too hot temperatures during the night act as a natural alarm clock.

"In Northern Europe, most of us have mechanisms in place to keep our homes warm during the winter, but not to keep them cool during the summer.

"Our warmest summer nights can be a bit of a double whammy for our sleep, because we get exposed both to too much heat and too much light. So what can we do?

"It can be a bit of a catch-22 situation - we need to open the window to let the cooler air in, but if we are reliant on blinds, this will also let the sun in before we would prefer to wake up. So getting curtains that keeps the light out and let the air through is a good start. Some people find sleeping with an electric fan hard to get used to, but a Japanese study has shown that using a fan during a hot night will decrease our time awake in bed by lowering the body temperature.

"That late night cup of coffee or tea may have a noticeably greater effect on your ability to fall asleep. When it's hot, we naturally drink more liquids and that is because we need them. So don't go to bed thirsty, because the dehydration will wake you up even though the need to go to the bathroom doesn't.

"Alcohol tends to make it easier to fall asleep, but it also lowers the threshold for waking up, which isn't helpful during the hottest and muggiest summer nights."

"I make sure all the curtains are closed during the daytime to stop the sun coming in. I have the windows open on the shady side and closed on the sunny side. It means running round the house halfway through the day to close one side and open the other."

An hour before going to bed he opens all the windows to get a through breeze.

But not everyone has the luxury of being able to throw open windows. It may not be safe. Bungalows, ground floor flats and basements can be vulnerable to burglary. Others may worry about insect bites, particularly with the spread of mosquitos in the UK.

"The most sensible option is to use a [electric] fan," recommends Mary Morrell, professor of sleep and respiratory physiology at Imperial College London. "It will help move the air around your body and increase the chance of sweat evaporating."

She recommends thin cotton sheets rather than nylon bedding. They will absorb sweat rather than leave the sleeper covered in a film of moisture.

Insects are unlikely to bother people in cities, she believes. But for those in the countryside with the windows open, a mosquito net is one possible solution.

There's more to it than temperature and humidity, says Prof Kevin Morgan, director of the Clinical Sleep Research Unit at Loughborough University.

Hot days mean we get into bed in a different physical and mental state. Often people have drunk more alcohol than usual. And when it comes to sleep, a different routine or state of mind is not good, he says.

"It's hot and you get into bed and don't get to sleep as quickly. The thing that stops you falling asleep is what you then start thinking about. Don't lie there thinking about why you didn't get that promotion. It's a recipe for mini insomnia."

Man catching up on sleep Catching up on sleep later in the day may be necessary for some

Instead, get up and read the paper or do something comforting as long as it doesn't involve turning on an email or computer, he advises.

A nightcap is not recommended unless it's something you do normally.

"If you're used to having a couple of glasses of claret and that works for you, fine," Morgan says. "But don't have a toddy if you're not used to it. Alcohol is pretty good at putting you to sleep but pretty awful at keeping you asleep."

Nor is a cold shower a good idea. "It will make you feel momentarily cold and close down the pores so you'll sweat less. If you have to shower, have a lukewarm one."

The key thing is not to worry. Healthy humans can do with two poor nights' sleep in a row without any significant impact, Morgan says.

"And by the third night you'll be so tired that you'll fall asleep quickly whatever the weather."

Here is a selection of your suggestions.

I fill a hot water bottle with ice-cold water. It works very well and provides that sense of cool relief on the body.

Sanam, Ilford

I rented a flat in Perth Western Australia that became unbearably hot in the summer at night. I used to get to sleep by lying on a beach towel on the bed. I also placed a towel over the pillow because the head sweats a lot and it prevents a wet pillow. I still adhere to this in England and have shared this with many people who say it works!

Andrew Walker, Chelmsford

I worked in the Republic of Congo for a while where the tropical weather made conditions hot and humid. On one particular night in my hotel, the air conditioning wasn't working and I found all the building exits locked, with no access to the reception desk either on foot or by telephone. In desperation, I soaked towels in tepid water and arranged them on the stone floor as a bottom and top sheet - it gave me a few hours sleep rather than being totally deprived.

Fiona FitzGerald, Aberdeen

Better to have a folding camp bed or sun-lounger so you can lose heat from below as well as above. Set it up in a downstairs room with a solid or tiled floor, even the kitchen. A small fan blowing air under such a bed is bliss. Best of all? A hammock!

Jon Fowler, Northwich

I live in a second floor flat in London. I can open the windows but the problem is street noise, which doesn't help, and with the nice weather people seem to be staying out even later. I did try ear plugs last night and they worked a treat.

L, London

Our ceiling fan in the bedroom is one of the best things we have ever bought. You want a quiet one that you can sleep through. It draws no more electricity than a light bulb. In winter you can change the rotation direction to pull warm air from the ceiling.

Stephen, Newcastle-Upon-Tyne

Wring out a flannel with cold water and sleep with it on exposed skin ie, if you sleep on your back - tummy, chest of forehead; if you sleep on your side it will even work on a thigh or calf muscle; anywhere that is exposed. It won't work all night long as it slowly warms and it doesn't work on hairy chests!

Teena, England

Long time ago was sharing a room in the YMCA in Bombay with a Sri Lankan woman. We agreed that with the temperature of only 34 degC we did not need the fan on clonking away and keeping us awake with the noise.

Jane, Essex

Lightly spray your bedding with water to cool it down. Go to bed with damp socks on. Sleep naked. Use a sheet instead of a duvet. Use "cool box" ice packs to cool your bed or have your fan blow on them to cool the air.

Matthew Stephenson, Cleckheaton, West Yorkshire

Bring a bucket of cold water into the bedroom, dip a single cotton bedsheet in the bucket of water and rinse it out. Twist the bedsheet to expel excess water out and make the sheet nice cool damp and spread this over you lying in bed. This should keep you cool during the night and the sheet will be dry in the morning so you can repeat and use it again for the next night. This tip was given to me by the Aussies when I stayed in a homestead in Queenland, Australia. It's worked for me even in England.

Tony, Nottingham

I always keep a big pack of unscented baby wipes next to the bed. When it's uncomfortably hot put one on the back of the neck, one on the forehead and one on each foot, just draped over.

Terri Nixon, Plymouth

I use a diffuser spray bottle, bought from the chemist use it to spray water on my feet, neck and wrists. It instantly makes you feel cooler all over. Hopefully you'll get to sleep before it evaporates completely and you start to get warm again, if not give it another blast.

Tom, Hertford

Get rid of foam mattresses. Go back to a sprung mattress which help air to circulate.

Alan Gray, Liverpool

In Korea, they deeply believe that having a fan in the room while you're asleep can kill you. Otherwise sane and reputable scientists have gone on Korean tv to discuss possible reasons why a little electric fan can kill you. Perhaps it's that they cause hypothermia, perhaps they 'chop up' the oxygen molecules, perhaps they displace the oxygen in the air. No one really knows why it kills you - except for everywhere outside of Korea where everyone knows it cannot and will not kill you!

Kathleen, London

Heat rises and will collect upstairs, usually where we sleep. Opening the attic or loft hatch will allow the heat to rise even further, thus cooling down the entire first floor of your house.

Kevin Ruane, Truro, Cornwall

I fill a rather large bowl with ice and put it under the fan. It was a technique used by Americans before widespread air conditioning.

Liam Byde, Maidenhead

Pulling your curtains is pointless. You need to block the sunlight outside of the glass - which is why the Mediterranean countries you quote as an example of the technique use external window shutters not internal curtains!

Bob, London

I am a terrible sleeper and once I wake up I keep worrying that I'm not asleep. I have found that by quietly listening to a story really helps. It's loud enough so that I can always hear it, but too quiet to wake me up. It is something else to focus on instead of being too hot, cold, thirsty, hungry, or even just too exhausted to sleep. I find it is really important that it is a story that I know, or I stay up to hear it! My boyfriend is used to it and now turns it on for me if I forget, or if he goes to bed before me!

Kirsty Horsman, Camberley, Surrey

I lie on my back close my eyes and try to remember the route I used to take to school as a small child. I do this by using my imagination to picture myself back as a seven-year-old and walk the route in my head visualising landmarks. This method actually puts me into a sleep pattern that on more than one occasion has also introduced lucid dreaming, something I cannot recommend highly enough.

James Egan, Oxford

I've found over the years that sleeping on my side to be better than on my back as you get more body surface exposed and can give off heat.

Nick, London

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