Insomnia Diaries is a column by Miranda Levy in which she shares her experiences of the chronic sleep problems she has experienced over the past decade and a half. It is published every Monday at 7am
So the worst of the heatwave may have passed, but we still have some more steamy summer nights to endure. And if we are to believe what they say about global warming, a lifetime of hotter temperatures (until the planet spontaneously combusts because its bedroom is over 18 degrees. See ’sleep hygiene’).
For insomniacs like me, it’s a season for schadenfreude: we get to enjoy the spectacle of ‘normal’ sleepers having a taste of what it’s like to go without. And, boy, do those tough bedroom warriors moan.
But in the spirit of common enterprise and Delivering, Uniting, Defeating and Energising, we will pretend to be on the same team. Thus, if, like me, you are sick of twisting and turning until your sheets resemble an over-chewed stick of Wrigleys, here are some thoughts on how to survive the sultry season
Apply cool wet cloths or icepacks to the your wrists, armpits or groin for short periods as these are areas where blood flows closest to the surface of your skin
See your doctor if you are on diuretics (fluid tablets) as you’ll need to check how much to drink in hot weather
Place a tray of ice cubes in front of a fan in your bedroom. (*A note on fans: make sure yours isn’t squeaky like mine is, so I can only use it during the day. It also blew away the receipts I had carefully arranged on my bed, for accounting purposes).
These nuggets are from the website HealthyWA. And they know their hot weather in Western Australia, people.
DON’T put your pyjamas in the freezer, or go to bed with wet socks. Apparently, both of these are Things. « When hot weather comes around, there are some tips given out which sound like they would work when actually they really don’t, » says James Wilson aka, the Sleep Geek. « Putting your bedding or pyjamas in the fridge or wearing wet socks to bed will add moisture to your sleep environment and that moisture will heat up during the night. »
DO keep the windows open. (But not if you have air conditioning, see below). Some of the advice this week – including the NHS website – has been to shut your windows, based on advice from the Heatwave Plan For England. But a closer look at that document reveals that it says the following: “Keep windows that are exposed to the sun closed during the day, and open windows at night when the temperature has dropped”. Elsewhere it reads: “windows and other ventilation openings should not be closed, but their openings reduced when the outdoor air becomes warmer than the air indoors.” ie, during the day.
DON’T get intimate with an ice lolly. Some women are apparently so, er… « desperate for natural relief, » wrote one source, « that they actually consider inserting ice lollies into their vaginas ». According to Dr Sarah Welsh, the co-founder of HANX condoms, the sensitive skin down-below nixes this idea. « There are many things that should never go near a vagina, and ice lollies are up there, » adds Dr Welsh.
DO kick your partner out of bed, because people are hot and sweaty and two are doubly as hot and sweaty as one. No ice lollies, and no cohabiting partner. Sucks.
DON’T try to sleep. Imagine yourself instead on vacation with an American movie star. « Whisk yourself away to a time and place when you can imagine enjoying lying in the heat, » says thesleepscientist.com‘s Dr Sophie Bosworth. « It could be real, it could be imaginary – a favourite beach, pool or sunlounger. Who is there? What can you hear? What can you feel? You can use imagery to distract yourself from the current discomfort. And even if you don’t get straight to sleep, at least (in my case) you can enjoy sunbathing with Bradley Cooper. »
DOkeep the bathroom light on all night. According to Dr Bhaskar Somani, a consultant urological surgeon at Southampton University, we should drink three litres of water a day during a heatwave. (But not more than one litre an hour, according to the US website Medical News Today, because of hyponatremia, a rare but nasty condition where you dilute the sodium in your bloodstream and become very unwell).
DON’T take naps as they will disturb your circadian (day/night) rhythm. ‘But siestas work for the Southern Europeans’, you say? The trouble is, they never get up again, and the shops remain closed when you want to buy a new suncream or British newspaper.
DO get air conditioning. « Totally worth it, » says my (UK born) friend Tony, who lives in Los Angeles. « The Brits do seem to resist the movement of air inside. I could not talk my father into getting a fan and he was always moaning about the heat. I finally bought him one and had it sent over. He loved it, of course, viewing it like some kind of mysterious modern miracle. When you have A/C it doesn’t matter how hot it gets. It was 100 degrees here today… But in my apartment, almost chilly. »
And finally: DO get over it – or so says the BBC website, adding: « Although you might yawn a little more frequently than usual, you’ll probably be fine ». That may sound unnecessarily frank in your hour of need, but in this instance, I’m with Auntie. Come back to me with your whining when you’ve gone nine years without sleeping and I’ll lend a more empathetic ear.