Most Seattleites stick out the wet and gloomy winter because summer in the Emerald City — with its blue skies, Mount Rainier views and easy access to Puget Sound — is unmatched.
In the past couple years, however, it’s also been alarmingly hot (recall the record-setting temperatures of the heat dome in 2021).
Why is it hard to sleep and feel well-rested when it’s hot?
The best sleep environment is dark, cool and quiet. Without these conditions, the quality of your sleep declines.
“In order to fall asleep, our bodies have to cool off a couple of degrees — it’s a natural physiological process,” says Dr. Nathaniel Watson, director of Harborview Sleep Clinic, co-director of UW Medicine Sleep Center and a UW Neurology professor.
If your body can’t cool down, it becomes difficult to fall asleep. Even if you do, high temperatures can cause you to wake throughout the night, which fragments your sleep, disrupts your natural sleep stages and prevents you from feeling well-rested.
“When you’re sleep-deprived or have poor quality sleep, you can become more irritable and your mood can be affected, among many other things,” Watson says. (Yeah, not exactly the fun summer vibes we had in mind, either.)
How to sleep in hot weather
Watson’s No. 1 tip for aiding sleep when temperatures are high: Take a hot bath or shower one to two hours before going to bed.
Yes, you read that correctly.
The science here goes back to your body’s physiological need to cool down a couple degrees in order to sleep. You want to create a circumstance that allows your body temperature to drop even if your sleep environment remains hot.
“It’s counterintuitive, but the way to facilitate that process is to take a hot bath or shower, which opens up the blood vessels around your skin and helps your body dissipate its core body heat,” Watson says.
Along with the hot shower trick, it also helps to do what you can to keep your space as cool as possible.
If you are one of the lucky Seattleites with air conditioning, now is the time to use it. If not, you can use fans to help with air circulation, wear light pajamas (or sleep commando, no judgment here), purchase self-cooling bedding, put your sheets in the freezer before bed and sleep with icepacks in your sheets.
Watson also recommends you stop eating a few hours before bed, as digestion draws blood into your core which can prevent you from cooling down. And it’s always a good idea to drink water to help stay cool and hydrated.
Sleeping in hot temperatures isn’t pleasant, but there are ways to make it possible. Prep your environment ahead of time and try the hot shower tip to facilitate your body cooling down before bed. Soon any heat waves will feel like a distant bad dream.