B.C. heatwave causing serious sleep struggles

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — The heatwave currently engulfing B.C. is hard on our bodies in more ways than one, according to one sleep expert.

Along with increased risk of heatstroke, sunburn, and dehydration, it seems a lot more people are having a hard time falling asleep. Dr. Wendy Hall, professor emeritus at UBC, says this is a big problem here.

“The problem we’ve got in BC is, there’s only about 40 per cent, apparently, of homes in the Lower Mainland that have air conditioning, so most of us are dealing with no air conditioning.”

Hall says our core body temperature needs to cool down as we get closer to sleeping, but due to this heat wave, our temperatures are staying elevated which makes it much harder to fall asleep.

“Our core body temperature is around 37 degrees Celsius and then it starts to drop in the evening to prepare us for sleep, and that’s when we release the sleep hormone Melatonin,” she explains. “So, if our core body temperature is elevated, then it’s very difficult for people to fall asleep because they’re very warm, they feel discomfort, they’re restless…”

Not only is it harder to get to sleep, but it turns out, the weather effects the quality of our sleep, too.

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Getting a good quality of sleep can affect your day-to-day, including helping “with our immune system and feeling rested during the day,” Hall says, adding, “It can have a huge effect on people and they can end up feeling very groggy during the day when they have a bad night’s sleep.”

“So, you’re going to get less deep sleep, at the beginning of the night — the slow wave sleep, which is restorative and that restores you physically. Also, because your body doesn’t regulate temperature as well during REM sleep, which is your dreaming sleep in the latter part of the night, you’re probably going to get less REM sleep, and REM sleep helps us with learning, memory, and consolidation of memory.

Hall has some tips on how to keep cool, including closing blinds during the day to keep the hot sun out, covering skylights, using breathable cotton sheets and bedding, staying hydrated.

Another tip is wearing “loose pajamas, or maybe in some cases no pajamas.” She also recommends using a dehumidifier in your bedroom, as humidity makes the heat feel even more intense.

But, as much as you might want to reach for the Melatonin, she recommends you don’t — you’ll get a better rest if you work on cooling your body down instead. She especially cautions parents against using the sleep inducing drug.

“All the evidence out there really does not recommend that for healthy children,” she says. “It’s better to figure out ways of dealing with your environmental temperature.”

Hall recommends closing blinds when the sun is out, taping up skylights, using breathable cotton bedding, and sleeping naked.

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