As the blistering days of summer bleed into sweltering nights, we can hear the collective yawn of Aussies desperate to get some shut-eye.
According to Australia’s Sleep Health Foundation, research shows that people sleep most soundly when the temperature lies between 17-19 degrees Celsius.
If you’re facing a particularly hot night, don’t despair. There are ways you can stop the heat from spoiling your slumber:
Address your expectations
You shouldn’t expect to sleep as well when it’s hot, says Dr Cunnington.
“In fact, expecting to sleep the same as when the temperature is average is irrational…”
He says these warped expectations tie in with the misplaced idea that sleep needs to be the same every night - the same length of time, in the same place, and under the same circumstances.
When it’s a scorcher, Dr Cunnington recommends accepting you’re likely to sleep less than normal.
People should also understand that sleep expectations should vary, person-to-person. This is because our sleep patterns are sometimes affected by our race and ethnicity.
Such were the findings of a 2015 study, published in the journal SLEEP. It found that people of African-American, Hispanic and Chinese descent had shorter sleep time than Caucasians in general.
Meanwhile, heat seems to affect people differently according to their background, too, as demonstrated in a 2011 study published in Global Health Action. It noted that, during an extreme heatwave in Adelaide, 37 per cent of those hospitalised with direct heat-related injuries were non-Australian born.
What remains unknown is whether a person’s background, ethnicity and race can affect their ability to sleep in the heat. Though Dr Cunnington says “there really isn’t any research” on that topic, he believes these factors have little impact. “I think it’s more around expectation and what you’re prepared for,” Dr Cunnington says.
Don’t let your thoughts sabotage your sleep
Sleep psychologist Dr Moira Junge says people often jeopardise their own sleep by becoming “too distressed” by the mere anticipation of a hot night ahead.
Naturally, if your mind is whirring with worries about how you’ll fall asleep when it’s so darn hot, those thoughts themselves can keep you awake.
Instead of getting worked up, relax your thinking. Dr Junge suggests engaging in some much-needed 'self talk'; remind yourself that these extremely hot days are only temporary, after all.
Don’t go to bed too early
Going to bed when you’re hot, but not actually sleepy, just means you’ll lie there and get even warmer as you thrash about in frustration.
Instead, Dr Cunnington advises staying up until you’re hit by a wave of sleepiness. Only then should you retire to your bedroom.
Obviously, air-conditioning can help, but there are other ways to cool down.
“Moving air is the key,” says Dr Cunnington, who believes a fan can work wonders, as can an open window.
Next, have a cold shower before hopping into bed.
If you wake in the night and feel overheated, Dr Junge advises showering again, or simply dabbing your hands and face with a damp face cloth.
Dress lightly - if at all
Wear minimal clothing to bed, opting for cotton over synthetic fabrics. Or, even better - strip off. If you feel the need to lie under a cover, choose a light cotton sheet. Keep a doona nearby, though, as you may feel a little chilly when the temperature drops to its lowest between 3-5am.
Try to nap the next day
Siestas are a wonderful way to deal with exhaustion, especially during a heat wave, says Dr Junge.
If you know you can nap the next day, you’re also less likely to be anxious about your sleep needs at night.
Of course, take your circumstances into consideration. But if you’re able to nap, don’t feel guilty about snoozing the day after a restless sleep.
And while you’re drifting off, remind yourself that you’ll be dreaming of heat once winter rolls round.