Summer Is In, Let the Insomnia Begin

By 
Dr. Kimberly Fishbach

Insomnia in the Summer 

Many people look forward to summer. It’s a time for catching up on sleep, being more active outdoors, traveling, socializing, or spending time outside enjoying the sunshine. But for others, the warmer weather and longer days can make it harder to fall or stay asleep. They may lie awake at night, questioning their health, and focusing on their worries. Unintentionally, getting less sleep and increasing their level of stress perpetuates the very problem they’re trying to solve. Sound familiar?

While there are many reasons why people develop insomnia, sometimes the culprit is summer itself. Years of research into the mechanisms of sleep have allowed scientists and psychologists to develop strategies to help get people’s sleep back on track so they can return to their daily activities and fully enjoy the summer.

How Do I Know If I'm Having Insomnia?

Insomnia is difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, and getting enough sleep. This includes waking during the night and/or waking up earlier than you want to, which sets a path for fatigue and feeling unrested. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to toss and turn all night to have insomnia. Instead, insomnia relates more to daytime impairment resulting from not getting enough restful sleep, which may leave you feeling groggy, distracted, irritable, or depressed. Furthermore, worrying about not getting enough sleep can lead to even less sleep, oftentimes interfering with concentration and memory. 

Many factors contribute to insomnia, including excitement, stress, anxiety or other mental health issues, chronic pain or illness, hormones, medications, eating too much at night, consumption of alcohol or caffeine, and bedtime habits.

Most of us will experience insomnia at one time or another, as up to 70 million Americans are impacted by sleep disorders every year. Research has found that more women than men experience insomnia, and it is more common as we grow older. While the optimum amount of sleep varies from person to person, most adults require approximately six to nine hours of sleep each night. Not getting enough quality sleep can be detrimental to your health and lead to long-term problems such as hypertension, diabetes, and weight gain.

Why is Insomnia Worse in Summer?

Our sleep/wake cycle is regulated by mechanisms in the brain that dictate our circadian rhythm. The circadian rhythm is like an internal clock that controls daily variations in body temperature, hormones, and blood pressure; and it’s this same rhythm that makes you want to sleep at night. This internal clock is affected by exposure to light, ambient temperature, and melatonin — the naturally produced hormone that induces sleep.

Melatonin is regulated by sunlight, which itself stimulates the brain to wakefulness and blocks the body’s release of melatonin during increased daylight hours. This in turn reduces your normal feeling of tiredness as the day stretches into night, so you’re likely to stay up later. And because the sun rises earlier on summer days, sleeping hours are unfortunately shortened. Additionally, although your body temperature normally drops in the evening as a signal for sleep, warmer summer temperatures tend to interfere with this process as well.

Furthermore, seasonal changes to your schedule might also be at play in creating more problems with insomnia. With the warmer weather and longer daylight hours, we tend to socialize more and eat later. These shifts can confuse your internal clock and worsen your sleep.

It might feel like there’s nothing you can do about your body’s hormones, receptors, and responses to the changing of the seasons, but there are other factors under more conscious control that also affect your quality of sleep. With attention to particular lifestyle choices, you can help encourage more restful summer nights.

How Can I Improve My Sleep?

Simple alterations to your activities and nighttime routines can help improve your sleep. Quitting smoking, and avoiding large meals before bed can help set you up for a better slumber. Reducing your caffeine intake throughout the day — including coffee, tea, sodas, and chocolate — and sticking to a sleep and wake schedule will also facilitate a good night’s rest.

Alcohol can also be problematic, as it interferes with deep sleep. Having a few drinks might make you feel sleepy initially, but once this wears off you’re likely to wake up and have trouble falling back to sleep. Alcohol also brings other problems for sleep, such as a headache, dry mouth, acid reflux, and a racing heart. Summer can make us want to act like we’re on vacation even when we’re not, but if you’re looking for a better quality of sleep, it;’s best to take it easy.

Daytime routines are important too. Getting regular exercise can help you sleep more soundly, as can a consistent meal schedule. Turning off devices at least 30 minutes before bedtime prevents blue light from stimulating the brain late into the evening.

Another path to successful sleep is to create soothing bedtime rituals. In addition to setting and keeping a consistent bedtime, you can wind down at the end of the day with soothing music, a relaxing bath, gentle stretching, meditation, or a good neutral book. Training your body and brain to relax as you’re headed to bed will serve you well through the rest of the year.

As light, sound, and temperature all impact the quality of your slumber, transforming your bedroom into a “dark, quiet, cool sanctuary” — with black-out blinds over windows, a sleep mask, and no TVs or phone screens — can help you sleep more effectively. Taking a warm shower before heading to bed will trigger the body’s thermoregulation to lower your body temperature and help you sleep as well. Keeping things cool with a fan, open window, or air conditioning, and using lightweight sheets or blankets will also send sleep signals to the brain. As every person is different, it’s important to experiment with these and other remedies to find the habits and routine that work best for you.

Short-term insomnia often resolves on its own. But if making these changes doesn’t help, it might be time to reach out to a professional.

Can Hypnosis be Used for Insomnia?

When lifestyle changes don’t resolve insomnia, sometimes therapy or medication can help you return to healthier sleep patterns. Seeking professional help is especially important if you’re experiencing excessive daytime sleepiness — such as falling asleep throughout the day and finding it difficult to complete tasks at work. Another reason to seek help is if your insomnia is persistent (i.e., difficulties at least three times a week).

Acute or short-term insomnia is frequently the result of a stressful life event — which might include the pandemic, losing a job or a relationship, or the death of a loved one. This type of insomnia typically lasts less than three months and resolves over time as you learn to cope with the stress.

Chronic insomnia is a longer term pattern of difficult or disrupted sleep occurring at least three nights each week for at least three months. In addition to stress, other possible causes for chronic insomnia include poor sleep habits, irregular schedules, mental health concerns, or other underlying health problems. If chronic insomnia is keeping you from getting restful sleep, you should first consult your doctor to rule out a medical condition.

There are several options for addressing insomnia with professional help, including Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and hypnosis. CBT can help you overcome sleep issues by allowing you to identify the thoughts and behaviors that are causing your problems, so that you can replace them with more constructive and supportive habits and mindsets.

Sleep hypnosis is a way to train the brain for more calming and restful sleep. A 2018 review of scientific studies found that hypnosis improved sleep in 58.3% of the two dozen studies reviewed. Sleep hypnosis can help you change your habits and thoughts around sleep in order to improve sleep quality, and it can be used in conjunction with other approaches.

Working with a trained hypnotherapist can help reinforce better bedtime habits, target any anxieties you’re experiencing related to sleep, and help alleviate symptoms of depression that result from sleep issues. Your therapist can also guide you through establishing better sleep habits and making other adjustments to improve both your daytime and nighttime hours.

While summer sun and warm-weather activities can have a negative impact on your sleep, you don’t have to suffer. Restful sleep is not out of reach. Better habits, lifestyle changes, and professional help can lead to improved sleep in summer or any time of year.

Dr. Kimberly Fishbach is a Clinical Psychologist at NY Health Hypnosis & Integrative Therapy. To learn more about how mindfulness and hypnotherapy can help you or to make an appointment, please contact us here.

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