Beat Summer Insomnia
Millions of people suffer from insomnia. But if you normally sleep well in the fall and winter, only to find that your sleep suffers in the summer, you’re not alone.
Summer insomnia is a real phenomenon—and there are distinct reasons for it.
Blame the Sun
The main cause of summer insomnia is extended daylight hours. The extra few hours of sunshine may be great for your social life, but it can really mess with your production of the hormone melatonin.
Melatonin is released by your brain every day, and it is responsible for regulating your sleep/wake cycle. Light controls how much melatonin your brain releases.
During the day when it’s bright out, melatonin levels are barely measurable. But as the sun goes down and darkness sets in, higher amounts of melatonin are released to prepare the body for sleep. Levels peak during the middle of the night, then slowly fall again as dawn arrives, helping to wake us up.
Two factors in the summer affect this typical sleep/wake cycle. For one, later sunsets delay the brain’s release of melatonin, so we don’t get the “it’s time to wind down and go to bed” message until much later in the evening. Second, the summer sunrises nudge us awake far earlier than wintertime ones. Depending on location, it’s not unusual for the sun to come up before 5:00am!
Combined, these factors result in later bedtimes, earlier wakeups, shorter sleep duration, and more trouble falling asleep.
Hot Weather & Schedule Changes Don’t Help
Two other aspects can contribute further to summer insomnia: the hot weather and changes to our usual schedules.
Normally, body temperature decreases before bedtime. This is yet another way our bodies let us know that it’s time for bed.
However, hot summer weather can interfere with this “thermoregulation,” causing our body temp to stay elevated for longer periods of time. This, in turn, makes it difficult to fall asleep.
And finally, we can’t forget the fact that summer is often the time when we’re outside more than ever, taking trips and vacations, and generally doing things that are not part of our typical routine. These changes confuse our “internal clock” even more, and ultimately affect our sleep quality and quantity.
Habits that Promote Better Summer Sleep
If all this sounds familiar to you, here are some tips to beat summer insomnia.
Try to stay as consistent as possible with your sleep/wake schedule. Your routine may look a little different in the summer vs. the winter, but try to stick to the same general schedule every day. Eat your dinner around the same time and have a consistent bedtime. Of course you’ll deviate once in a while, but the more regularity you have, the better it is for your internal clock.
Exercise every day. One study found that 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week improved sleep quality by 65%. There is a caveat though: Evening exercise may keep you up instead of helping you sleep. Morning or daytime workouts are the way to go.
Several hours before you go to bed, avoid caffeine, alcohol, and tobacco. All of these interfere with sleep.
Limit your exposure to light (TV, lamps, computers, smartphones, tablets, etc.) as you approach bedtime. It is also a good idea to cover or remove any electronics with bright lights, such as your alarm clock, nightlight, etc. And in the summer, blackout blinds or curtains are your best friend. You don’t have to spend a lot of money on these—online retailers like Amazon have very reasonably priced blackout curtains. Another option to fully block out light is to use an eye mask.
Cool your house overnight. Experts say the ideal sleeping temp range is 60–67 degrees F. You can also use cooling sheets or blankets and a bedside (or ceiling) fan to chill things down further.
Eliminate noise and other disturbances. If necessary, ear plugs, a white noise machine, or fan can drown out any outside commotion.
You may also benefit from a natural sleep aid, especially if lifestyle changes don’t help you out as much as you hope.
Melatonin. There are two forms of melatonin supplements—fast or slow release. If your main concern is falling asleep once you lay down, the fast-acting form may work best for you. If your issue is staying asleep or frequent waking, slow-release melatonin may be a better option. You can also support your body’s own production of melatonin by taking vitamin B6, folic acid, and magnesium, all of which are essential for the natural production of melatonin. You can take these individually, but a multivitamin should be able to provide you with sufficient amounts.
GABA. Gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA) is an amino acid that sends messages of calm from the brain to the rest of the body. GABA helps balance out the “excitatory” neurotransmitters, such as norepinephrine, that keep you awake and at “high alert.”
L-theanine is an amino acid involved in the production of GABA. It helps soothe and quiet the mind so that you can more easily relax, and fall and stay asleep.
Magnolia bark stimulates production of GABA as well. At least one compound in magnolia bark has been identified as being as effective as diazepams (such as Valium) in calming anxiety and aiding sleep. Magnolia bark also helps reduce adrenaline levels when they’re no longer needed, and may suppress elevated levels of cortisol, another stress hormone that is strongly associated with increased anxiety, depression, irritability, and other symptoms that can interfere with sleep.
You can find all of these at your local health food store or pharmacy. Or, you can try a product specifically formulated for sleep, like Newport Natural Health’s Sleep Solution Plus.
The bottom line: Summer insomnia is a common issue that many people suffer from. The good news is it only lasts a few months! The even better news is there are plenty of things you can do to promote better sleep during this time.