Imagine night upon night, day upon day, with no sleep. That’s the nightmare that takes over the life of the crafty L.A. detective played by Al Pacino in the 2002 thriller Insomnia. In the movie, Pacino is dispatched to a small Alaskan town to help the locals solve the murder of a teenaged girl. It’s summer, and the sun never sets. When even taping the shades to keep out the midnight sun fails to bring the cop a wink of shut-eye, Pacino’s thought processes and sleuthing skills rapidly deteriorate.
While few of us live so far north that the sun never sets, longer days are a fact of life in summer — and they can wreak havoc with our sleep patterns. So, too, can a change in routine, such as having the kids home from school or setting out on that long planned family vacation. Bouts of blazing heat and sticky humidity are a sure recipe for sleepless nights spent tossing and turning. And if your energetic youngster doesn’t wake you up at the crack of dawn, chirping birds may jolt you awake.
How widespread are sleep problems from Memorial Day to Labor Day? Very, says Maurice Ohayon, MD, a sleep expert at Stanford University who has been surveying the prevalence of sleep disorders in the U.S. since 1990. His latest, as-yet unpublished study shows that about one in four Californians and New Yorkers suffer from insomnia during summer. In Texas, 17% of residents don’t get a good night’s rest. That compares to about 10% of people in all three states during the rest of the year, he tells WebMD.
Fortunately, there are simple steps you can take to combat summertime sleep deprivation, Ohayon and other specialists say. In fact, their tips, including a new four-week program to better sleep by WebMD’s “Sleep Expert” Michael J. Breus, PhD, can help you to rest better all year round.
Common Summertime Sleep Woes — and Solutions
1. Long Days
“When the sun doesn’t set until hours after you’re used to in the rest of the year, it arouses you and makes it that much more difficult to fall asleep,” says Meir Kryger, MD, director of the Sleep Disorders Centre at St. Boniface Hospital Research Centre in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, and a member of the National Sleep Foundation’s Board of Directors.
“Invest in blinds that the sun can’t get through,” Kryger advises. Available at many hardware and home improvement stores, the blinds are an inexpensive way to ensure you get your zzz’s, he says.
2. Heat and Humidity
The ideal temperature range for sleeping is 68 degrees to 72 degrees Fahrenheit, Kryger says. “It’s difficult to fall asleep if it’s much hotter.”
The solution: Ensure you have a good air conditioner and sufficient ventilation in the bedroom, Breus says. “Often a small, inexpensive unit can cool the room,” Kryger adds. “Measure the room before you shop and buy just what you need.”