Britain has experienced a mini heat wave this week so what’s the best way to get to sleep on those dreadfully sticky nights?
The hot, humid weather across most parts of Britain has made for some very uncomfortable nights. The Met Office says temperatures will now fall slightly across the next few weeks but humidity will remain fairly high at 60-80%.
“As a species, we are diurnal,” says Dr Malcolm von Schantz, a molecular neuroscientist at the University of Surrey’s Sleep Centre. “We have evolved to be able to sleep in a consolidated way during the night, when it is cooler and darker. Too cold or too hot temperatures during the night act as a natural alarm clock.
Humidity is a big part of the problem, making it hard for sweat to evaporate. For many, getting to sleep will have been sweaty and uncomfortable, closer to the climate people associate more with Bangkok than Bangor, either in Northern Ireland or Wales.
Add to that the common congestion problems of one sort or another that are caused by hot, humid weather, and many people, even when they do sleep, will begin to snore loudly with their partners suffering in the process.
Women are known to need more sleep than men although men often sleep better, and when you start to dig into the facts about men and women’s respective sleep habits it’s startling just how badly women fare when it comes to shut-eye. Dr Jim Horne, who is the Director of Sleep Research Centre at Loughborough University, says that women need an extra 20 minutes of sleep a day compared to men.
He says that in part this is because women use their brains more during the day. As one of the key functions of sleep is to allow the brain to rest and repair, all of that extra multitasking means women need to sleep more. In fact, women lose out in nearly all of the major sleep-related conditions.
Insomnia? According to the National Sleep Federation, 63% of women experience it a few times a week, compared to 54% of men.
Pain during sleep? 58% of women said that pain interrupted their sleep at least three nights per week, compared to 48% of men.
Sleep apnoea? This is the only sleep condition where men ‘excel’ over women with men being twice as likely to suffer. However, some researchers have suggested that the condition may simply present differently in women and actually be just as much of an issue for them as men.
In places like the USA, where powerful air conditioning units are reasonably common in houses and apartments in hot and humid areas, it’s not so much of a concern. But in places like the UK where it’s hot and humid much less frequently how should people ensure they get a good night’s sleep?
An technique that is often used in Mediterranean countries, is to make sure that all the blinds or curtains are closed during the daytime to stop the sun coming in. Leave the windows open on the shady side and closed on the sunny side and change them over when it’s necessary. Then, an hour before going to bed, open all the windows to get a through breeze.
But not everyone has the luxury of being able to throw open windows, as it may not be safe. Bungalows, ground floor flats and basements can be vulnerable to burglary. Others may worry about insect bites, particularly now there are so many mosquitoes to be found in the UK.
In this case, the most sensible option is to use an electric fan, recommends Mary Morrell, Professor of Sleep and Respiratory Physiology at Imperial College in London. ” Air flow is very important and it will help move the air around your body and increase the chance of sweat evaporating.”
She also recommends thin cotton sheets rather than nylon bedding. They will absorb sweat rather than leave the sleeper covered in a film of moisture.
Insects are unlikely to bother people in cities, she believes. But for those in the countryside with the windows open, a mosquito net is one possible solution. Hot days also mean we get into bed in a different physical and mental state. Often people have drunk more alcohol than usual and that is never a good idea, particularly as it makes snoring much worse. Alcohol is pretty good at putting you to sleep but pretty awful at keeping you asleep.
Solving the snoring problem is easy however, and of course it’s not confined to just hot weather; it happens all the time. Once again good airflow is the solution and easily achieved with a simple oral appliance.