July 20th, 2011
12:41 PM ET
Lisa Shives, M.D., is the founder of Northshore Sleep Medicine in Evanston, Illinois. She blogs on Tuesdays (or this week, on Wednesday) on The Chart. Read more from her at Dr. Lisa Shives’ Sleep Better Blog.
The recent heat wave across many parts of the country has been disturbing the sleep of many people who are not fortunate enough to have air conditioning.
This makes perfect sense because sleep is associated with a steady decline in our core body temperature. It should reach its lowest point approximately three hours before we wake.
Therefore, when we are overheated and this natural temperature drop is impeded, then sleep is disrupted.
There is research showing that melatonin has a direct effect on body temperature and that it reinforces the nocturnal decrease in the core body temperature thereby inducing sleep. Melatonin has shown mixed results as a sleeping agent in most studies, but it could be worth a try if you having trouble sleeping specifically because of the heat.
Before starting melatonin, young men and teens should always discuss its use with their physicians because there is some research showing decrease in testosterone as well as decrease in sperm count.
A bath or shower before also might help. It's not so much that hot water is relaxing as the fact that the cooling that takes place afterwards is conducive to sleep. So if your bedroom is like a sauna, it is best to try taking a cool shower before bed.
Another trick to aid sleep in these hot times is to get a small, tabletop water feature and keep it in your bedroom. It is true that the sound of running water makes people feel cooler. Of course, you can use a sound machine, but there is nothing like the real trickle.
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