It won’t be long before the dog days of summer are in our midst.
But each season has its own unique way of affecting one of the most important health behaviors: sleep.
Nearly a third of Americans report sleeping six or fewer hours a night, despite the fact that long-term deprivation has been linked with a host of serious health conditions, including heart problems and obesity.
So at the cusp of the newest season, we rounded up five of the biggest sleep traps that affect us over the summer. Here, expert tips to help you sleep like a baby through August.
Scorcher outside? "Heat is very stimulating and very wakeful," Joe Ojile, M.D., founder and CEO of the Clayton Sleep Institute in St. Louis, Missouri and a board member of the National Sleep Foundation, told The Huffington Post. If you think back historically, he explains, people had high ceilings (since heat rises) before they had fans and air conditioners. But today, we have modern technology to keep us cool. And it doesn't have to be freezing to get your rest. "Cool is relative," Ojile says. "If the temperatures are extreme, you don't have to have your room like an ice box." Just make sure it's significantly cooler than the temps outside -- most people prefer something in the low 70s. If you're still too hot to sleep, try taking a shower, which will bring down your body temperature when you get out. "That will encourage you to go to sleep," he says. The National Sleep Foundation recommends switching to lighter blankets and linens, and keeping the heat out during the day by closing the blinds at home. Ojile says it's also important to keep humidity at a comfortable level with your existing cooling system or a separate dehumidifier.
All the extra hours of daylight we enjoy in the summertime sometimes come at a price: depending on where you live and what time you go to sleep at night, it could still be light out. Since any light encourages your body to be wakeful, the solution is simple: make your bedroom as dark as possible using blackout shades, Ojile suggests. And even if it is dark by the time you're going to sleep, all that extra daylight during the day can make it harder to transition to sleep at night -- biologically, you might want to stay up a little later and sleep in a little later in the morning. But the former can only happen if the latter can too, Ojile explains. Shortchanging your sleep all summer long is a recipe for serious health problems.
The warm temperatures ahead make us all want to enjoy the great outdoors. But the downside is when loud neighbors extend their revelry into the night, keeping you awake. The curtains you use to block out the light can also help to muffle sound, he says. Earplugs can work, too, as can a white noise machine. Just don't cover up the sounds with the television, which disturbs sleep quality all through the night, even if you're not aware of it.
Ahh summer vacations. A weeklong escape from everyday life -- and sleep patterns. While experts typically suggest people stick within an hour of their regular sleep schedules on the weekend, a longer vacation is different. Here, you have the time to adjust to a new schedule, almost like if you were traveling to a new time zone, Ojile explains. The problem, though, is that you'll be jet lagged when it comes time to return to reality. To ease the transition, he suggests readjusting your sleep patterns toward the end of the trip to bring sleep and wake times somewhere within two hours of your normal routine. And for kids, summertime can turn into a three-month long vacation of bad sleep habits. Ojile says it's fine to allow your children to slightly adjust their schedule to stay up a little later at night, but only if they're also able to sleep in a little later in the morning to still get the shuteye they need. And just like the adults at the end of a whole-family vacation, you'll need to ease them back into regular patterns before school starts back up.
Spring and fall get bad raps when it comes to allergies, but just because it's about to be summer doesn't mean you're immune. According to WebMD, pollen is the biggest culprit of this season's allergies, with grasses and weeds (especially ragweed) being particularly problematic. According to the National Sleep Foundation, allergy symptoms affect sleep dramatically (and lack of sleep can actually make your allergies worse, HuffPost reported earlier this year, creating a vicious cycle). To keep your bedroom allergen-free, try using an air purifier and keeping the windows closed, especially in the morning, to shut the pollen out. It can also help to remove pollen from your body by showering and washing your hair before bed -- and clean your sheets at least once a week to kill off dust mites, which can worsen symptoms.