Summer heat can make sleep harder. Don't do these 3 things before bed

It's almost summertime, which means the weather is getting warmer and the days are getting longer. But some of the most enjoyable parts of the summer months can mess with your sleep cycle, according to experts.

"Summertime presents unique obstacles that we don't have a tendency to see during other seasons," Michael Breus, a clinical psychologist known as the "sleep doctor" and fellow of The American Academy of Sleep Medicine, told TODAY in a segment that aired April 28. Some of these include:

  • More light

  • More heat

  • More socializing

In the summer when the days are longer, this means we are exposed to more light, Breus explains. On top of this, daylight saving time is in effect in most of the U.S. during summer which adds another hour of evening sunshine. "Light exposure affects our circadian rhythm, the internal clock that makes us active during the day and sleepy at night," said Breus.

Similarly, the summer heat can also impact how we snooze. "Sleep follows our core body temperature cycle," said Breus, adding that it can be harder to sleep well if the body can't cool down at night.

That's why you should set the thermostat in your home to around 65 degrees when you're sleeping, if you can, Dr. Carol Ash, a sleep specialist at RWJ Barnabas Health, suggested in an Aug. 3 segment on TODAY. If you're not able to cool your home adequately, she advised taking a hot shower before bed because it causes your outer blood vessels to dilate, helping the heat dissipate from the body. Closing your curtains during the day can also keep the temperature cooler at night. A fan can also help.

The warmer weather and longer days also mean more fun. People are often more active and social during the summer months and stay up or out later compared to other seasons, said Breus.

Fortunately, there are some simple strategies to combat these obstacles and help you get a better night of sleep. Breus shared some of the biggest sleep mistakes he sees people making and how to avoid them to sleep better and longer.

Mistake #1: Nighttime skin care in bright bathroom lights

Since we're already getting increased sunlight exposure from longer summer days, said Breus, additional exposure to light in the evening can lead to later bedtimes and less hours of sleep.

Light inhibits the production of melatonin, said Breus, which is "the key that starts the engine for sleep." Melatonin is a hormone produced by the body that is released in response to darkness.

Breus recommended trying to get most of your light exposure earlier in the day and limiting exposure in the evening from things like indoor lights, lamps or screens. This may also mean altering your nightly skin care routine, he added.

"A lot of people take off makeup or do a skin care routine right before bed in this tremendously brightly lit mirror," said Breus. Depending on the brightness of your bathroom or mirror lights and the length of your skin care routine, this can really mess with your sleep.

"That super bright environment is basically telling your brain it’s morning time, and it’s not going to be producing that melatonin," said Breus. You don't need to do your skin care routine in the dark, but you may want to time it earlier in the night, he added. "Right after dinner, or around 6 or 7 p.m., do your skin care routine and give yourself some time so that way you don’t get that tremendous light (before bed)," said Breus.

In addition to avoiding indoor light exposure right before bed, Breus recommended trying blackout curtains and eye masks.

Mistake #2: Exercising within 2-3 hours of bedtime

Our core body temperature varies, but tends to be higher later in the day. "It rises until about 10:30 p.m. at night. Then it falls, and when it falls, that’s a signal to your brain to release melatonin," Breus explained. Being outdoors in summer weather and hot indoor environments (like that sweaty group fitness room at the gym) can make it harder for us to cool down.

Exercising also raises the body’s core temperature, and it can remain raised for hours after our workout ends, said Breus. "If you're too hot, you don’t get the melatonin release and that can inhibit your sleep," he explained.

"Avoid exercising too close to bedtime, probably about two and a half to three hours before bed," said Breus.

Breus also recommended keeping your bedroom temperature at about 65 to 68 degrees at night, which is optimal for sleeping. During the summer, use air conditioning, fans and window shades to keep the bedroom cooler, said Breus.

Mistake #3: Drinking alcohol right before you go to sleep

"People’s social lives are livelier in summer, leading to them drink more alcohol, eat later and socialize a little later," said Breus. In addition, summer is a more popular time for vacationing.

While it's important to enjoy yourself and have fun, be aware of how certain summertime activities can disrupt your sleep routine, Breus added.

Since alcohol can interfere with sleep, it's not a good idea to imbibe close to bedtime. "While this pertains to all times of the year, some people may find they drink alcohol more commonly in the summer, so it's best to avoid it for several hours before bed," said Breus.

To combat sleep changes during summer travel, bring something familiar with you from your bedroom at home to cue the brain to go to sleep, like a book, Ash said.

And, as the fall approaches, if you or your child need to get back to an earlier bedtime, start preparing two weeks in advance by moving the bedtime up 15 minutes each day, Ash advised.

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