Holidays, hot weather, global warming and sleepless nights

The key to feeling well rested is not just the amount of sleep you get, but the quality of it, and if you or your partner snore that doesn’t make for a great night’s rest. Add to that the ever-increasing amount of hot or humid weather, and problems for those who travel away and sleep in a different bedroom environment, and it’s tougher still. It can even lead to heat exhaustion on occasions. Holidays are a particularly stressful time and levels of snoring increase accordingly at this time.

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Obviously it’s a big help if you are using an oral appliance regularly to help you to stop snoring, but lack of sleep can lead to heat exhaustion and this is very dangerous. Signs of heat exhaustion can include tiredness, feeling faint or dizzy, having muscle cramps or feeling sick. If left untreated, the more serious symptoms of heatstroke can develop to a serious level and include confusion, disorientation and even loss of consciousness.

Wherever you are in the world, night-time temperatures can stay as high as some summer days, and many people find it hard to get to sleep. Humidity is a big part of the problem, making it hard for sweat to evaporate. Anyone suffering signs of heat exhaustion should immediately go to a cool place with air conditioning or shade, use a cool, wet sponge or flannel and drink fluids – ideally water, fruit juice or a rehydration drink, such as a sports drink.

Recent high temperatures all over the world have led to a great deal of comment and advice on the subject all of which is worth noting for both now and the future. “As a species, we are obviously diurnal,” says Dr Malcolm von Schantz at the University of Surrey’s Sleep Centre. “We have evolved to sleep in a consolidated way during the night, when it is cooler and darker. Too cold or too hot temperatures during the night act as a natural alarm clock.

“We need to open the window to let the cooler air in, but if we are reliant on blinds, this will also let the sun in before we would prefer to wake up. Some people find sleeping with an electric fan hard to get used to, but a recent study has shown that using a fan during a hot night will decrease our time awake in bed by lowering the body temperature.

In places like the US and Australia, where powerful air conditioning units are reasonably common in houses that are located in hot and humid areas, it’s not so much of a concern. But in places like the UK where it’s hot and humid less frequently how should people ensure they get a good night’s sleep?

Weather expert Philip Eden recommends a technique common in Mediterranean countries.  “I make sure all the curtains are closed during the daytime to stop the sun coming in. I have the windows open on the shady side and closed on the sunny side. It means running round the house halfway through the day to close one side and open the other.” An hour before going to bed he opens all the windows to get a through breeze.

“The most sensible option is to use an electric fan,” recommends Mary Morrell, professor of sleep and respiratory physiology at Imperial College London. “It will help move the air around your body and increase the chance of sweat evaporating.”

There’s more to it than temperature and humidity, says Prof Kevin Morgan, director of the Clinical Sleep Research Unit at Loughborough University. Hot days mean we get into bed in a different physical and mental state. Often people have drunk more alcohol than usual. And when it comes to sleep, a different routine or state of mind is not good, he says. A nightcap is not recommended unless it’s something you do normally. Nor is a cold shower a good idea. It will make you feel momentarily cold and close down the pores so you’ll sweat less. If you have to shower, have a lukewarm one.”

Work-related stress causes us to lose sleep, and catching up on lost sleep is high on the agenda in the summer holidays. Poor sleep can’t be turned into good overnight, but it pays off to try, as good sleeping habits keep us going on holiday and at work.  Make sure you follow as much advice as you think you need and do everything you can to rest well and stop snoring.

If you’ve neglected your sleep all year, you can’t really expect things to suddenly change when you start your holidays. Having said that, there’s no need to get anxious because there’s always the future, and now is a good time to look in the mirror and think about possible changes.”

Take all the important steps described and make sure you’re using the right oral appliance to stop snoring. It should be one that is medically approved and from an experienced, qualified specialist, rather than just a cheap piece of plastic in mouthpiece form. In addition you may benefit from one that is custom made to your dental profile giving more comforts.

John Redfern