Not Getting Great Sleep? Here's How to Beat Summertime Insomnia, According to an Expert
If you find it extra challenging to get good sleep during the summer, turns out, it's not just you.
In fact, the summer months can be the perfect storm of factors that impact sleep, from the lack of steady schedules to the heat and extended daylight hours and so much more—but that doesn't mean your sleep has to suffer. We were curious about summertime insomnia, as well as all of its causes and remedies, so we reached out to the experts for advice.
We got the chance to chat with Dr. Brittney Jones of DrLullaby, who specializes in optimizing sleep with personal, research-based strategies, for answers to all of our most burning questions. Keep scrolling to discover what she shared with us.
The Main Causes of Summertime Insomnia
Dr. Brittney Jones: Summertime insomnia can impact anyone, but is definitely relevant for teens. Generally, insomnia is difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep or waking up early in the morning. Summertime comes with more daylight, changes in routine, more socializing and freedom from responsibilities. Summer vacation is a recipe for sleep difficulty. But, there's good news! With awareness of summertime insomnia, there are so many ways to make changes to get a good night's sleep, even in the summertime!
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Changes in Schedule or Lack of Routine
Summertime is a welcomed break from waking up for school, deadlines and tests. During the school year, there's a set schedule because you have to wake up at a certain time every morning. In the summer, you may not have a set schedule, and for most, summertime is free of strict schedules. Unfortunately, freedom and no routine lead to sleep troubles. Our bodies love routine! We are even set to a daily clock, the circadian rhythm. Your circadian clock tells your body when to go to bed and wake up. Sunlight also plays a vital role in our circadian clock. In the summer, with no set routine, the circadian clock goes out of whack, which is made worse with more hours of sunlight.
Spending More Time in Bed or the Bedroom When Awake
It can be tempting to stay in bed scrolling through social media, messaging friends or binge-watching your favorite series. These behaviors can actually teach your brain to be awake while in bed! The more time spent awake in bed or the bedroom, the more your brain associates the bed with activities other than sleep. This is associative learning, and how brains make mental shortcuts. With more downtime during the summer, watch out for time spent in bed or the bedroom while awake.
Even though we think of summertime as a relaxing break from responsibilities, life stressors can still emerge. Notice if you're worrying or have stress often, especially at nighttime. Worry and stress are activating your body! Stress involves a cascade of biological reactions, such as the release of stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. Your heart beats faster and your breath quickens. These processes happen without us knowing but have a big impact on our body's ability to settle down and enter a sleep state. Imagine your body trying to sleep if it's pumping adrenaline! In the face of stress, sleep is like fighting an uphill battle. Managing stressors improves sleep quality. This summer, find ways to incorporate relaxation during the day and before bed. If you wake up during the night, that's a perfect time to practice relaxation. It's even meaningful to do the activities you enjoy and make you feel at peace during the day. If you notice mental health struggles, you can also talk to a psychologist or therapist to talk through difficulties and build your toolbox for managing stress.
Being Active at Night
Engaging in activating activities before bed (e.g., exercise, hanging with friends) can lead to being awake at night. When you're active, your body is energized. Increased energy is an obstacle to your body's ability to wind down for sleep, so push activating things earlier in the day. For example, going to the pool parties in the afternoon may be better than having most parties at night. If you need to have difficult conversations, do so earlier in the day than late at night. Conversations play in our minds and cause stress, and in turn, lead to wakefulness. Making these small tweaks can have large implications for improving your sleep.
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Eating Large Meals Before Bed
During summertime, eating meals later in the day or late-night snacking can make getting a good night's sleep difficult! Bodies need more energy to digest large meals, which can keep you awake.
Sun Exposure and Melatonin
Dr. Brittney Jones: Melatonin is a hormone that is naturally produced in the body. Melatonin is often produced later at night in teens. This is why teens often feel sleepier late at night. Delayed sleep phase syndrome is the name of this phenomenon, and sometimes leads to being a "night owl."
When it comes to summertime, though, light impacts the production of melatonin. In the darkness, melatonin is produced. In daylight, melatonin production is slower or stops altogether. So, during the long summer months, sleep becomes difficult. Imagine if you're in the sun all day and into the evening. Your body would have difficulty producing melatonin, which is one of the body's vital cues for sleep.
Dealing With a Later-Setting Sun
Dr. Brittney Jones: Even though the sun sets later, you can have control over sun exposure. Do outside activities earlier in the day. In the evenings and at night, have low light and no light in the bedroom. Close blinds and curtains to decrease sunlight. Dim the light in your home by turning on lamps instead of overhead lights. Consider using a light dimmer, as well. While in bed, you can opt for blackout shades or eye masks to really block light at night. The less light at night, the better!
The Role of Sleep Schedules
Dr. Brittney Jones: In the summertime, there's no school, homework or deadlines. For most, summer means freedom! However, with freedom comes inconsistency. The truth is that our bodies thrive on routine! Routines help our bodies align with our circadian clock. This clock is important for maintaining our body's daily functions. Routine and schedules also provide a sense of safety and predictability to our brains and body. All of these factors feed into our circadian clock and are vital for sleep. So, in the summer, with unstructured days, the circadian clock is out of whack! For teens, quality sleep is so important for their bodies to do so many complex tasks. Creating structure during the summer, like going to sleep and waking at the same times, can help your body's circadian clock regulate. It's possible to have a great summer vacation, even with a consistent sleep schedule! Continue to do the fun things you enjoy, but have boundaries around when you go to bed and wake up. This process may not be perfect every night, but each time you create this sleep routine, your body learns and adapts.
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Heat and Sleep
Dr. Brittney Jones: Hands down, our bodies prefer cool temperatures for sleep. At night, it's best to have temperatures in the high 60° F to low 70° F. Specifically, research shows that 65° F is the ideal temperature for the best sleep quality. Combat the summer heat with fans, air conditioning or open windows to cool your space. If you sleep with heavy bed coverings, you may want to opt for light bedding. Thick or heavy clothing at night can also lead to overheating, so it may help to wear light clothing to bed.
Maintaining a Balance
Dr. Brittney Jones: You can still have a free and fun summer while focusing on sleep and wellness. Sleep is highly behavioral and depends on biological, psychological, and situational factors. Controlling your behaviors and actions also gives us control over sleep quality and stress management. All in all, optimizing sleep behaviors is key to managing insomnia. Try any of these strategies to see what works best for you. It's like creating your own behavioral experiment! Your experiment may take several tries to find the strategies that fit "just right" to get quality sleep.
If you're having trouble sleeping, you also don't have to fight sleeplessness alone! Sleep and insomnia specialists are trained to help you optimize your sleep. Insomnia specialists, such as the doctors at DrLullaby specialize in sleep and insomnia, providing science-backed strategies to help you get a better night's sleep. DrLullaby is innovative, in that the doctors use its digital health app, along with telehealth. You can improve your sleep from the comfort of your home. Better nights are now within reach!
Baths can also be a great part of your nighttime rituals—and HERE are our tips for making the most of them.