For many, the sunshine we're expecting this week conjures up images of dripping ice-cream cones, sparkling seas and sandy sandwiches, but with an orange weather warning in place, and night-time temperatures not set to drop much below 20 degrees Celsius, for others, it's a very different prospect – tossing and turning, damp pillows and broken sleep.
On Today with Claire Byrne, Andrew Coogan, Behavioural Neuroscientist and Director of the Chronobiology and Sleep Research Laboratory at Maynooth University had advice for catching Zs after a day spent catching rays:
"There's a couple of very practical things we can do to help us deal with the heat. We can make sure we stay hydrated during the day – that's really important in general in this type of weather."
And what about once we’re in our jammies?
"We lose most of our body heat through our extremities; though our head, our hands, our feet, so before we go to bed, if we can have a cooling shower, a very tepid bath or even just wet our hair. I know that’s anathema to generations of Irish mammies, going to bed with a wet head. [...] Even just soak your feet in a basin of water before bed; that’ll help us lower our core body temperature."
Other tips include making sure there’s a glass of water on your bedside locker so you don’t need to get up in the middle of the night, and perhaps if you share a bed, considering sleeping in a spare room if that’s an option. And if you do wake, keep your activity to a minimum; no tea and scrolling. Andrew suggests:
"If you can, maybe have a red-bulb light by your bedside because actually we know the brain doesn't sense the red light as much. Read a physical book, not an e-reader. Keep your screens out of the bedroom."
And are the guidelines the same for kids?
"Small babies we know have difficulty in the heat – their thermo-regulation isn't as developed as it is when they get older, so obviously keeping small kids, infants and toddlers and babies cool during the day is really important."
Andrew also had advice to ensure teenagers and younger adults get enough good quality sleep, now that they're dealing with the double whammy of the heat and a change to their usual schedule:
"Try to keep a consistent bedtime, try to put away the screens for an hour or so before bedtime. Try to refrain from coffee or having any alcohol. Maybe don’t exercise in the evening and just try to wind down towards that bedtime"
Andrew explained that teens have a different chronotype to adults and therefore have different sleep needs:
"It wouldn’t be unusual for a teenager's natural bedtime to be midnight. For an older teenager or a young adult [it’s] nothing to do with them just wanting to stay up or anything. It’s actually them just following their natural biology."
So, it’s a case of late to bed and late to rise for teens – Andrew had the Irish mammies tearing their hair out again. All that matters is sufficient sleep:
"The recommended sleep duration for adults is somewhere between 7- and 9-hours sleep. But some adults may be fine with 6 hours sleep, some adults may need 10 hours sleep. There actually is quite a difference between people."
The advent of activity trackers has had an impact too, with many of us scrutinising our 'sleep scores’ after a fitful night. And while the algorithm is improving, our general sense of well-being is a far better barometer. Andrew explained:
"[There’s] something in sleep medicine called orthosomnia - where you actually fixate on your sleep scores from your activity tracker and that can be unhelpful."
So, if you're feeling ok and your sleep scores are rubbish,you probably shouldn't worry. If your sleep is bad and your sleep tracker agrees, it might be time to discuss it with your general practitioner, if you haven't already.
And this was the nub of Andrews advice when it came to insomnia, maintenance insomnia or disturbed sleep in general:
"People say, 'Ah well, I don't really want to bother the doctors with this’ but if it’s really impacting on your life, this is super important. And the other thing is sleep problems can often be linked with physical issues; in the majority of cases, they're not, but in a significant minority of cases they are. "
"So, if this is something that’s going on for more than maybe 3 or 4 days a week for more than a month, I think it’s worth discussing with a healthcare provider."
Andrew also had advice for shift-workers, more suggestions to promote sleep, and explained thermo-regulation; you can listen to the full chat here.