Quality sleep can be hard to come by during a heat wave, especially for those who don’t have air conditioning. According to the US Census Bureau’s 2021 American Housing Survey, about 53% of homes in the Seattle metro area have air conditioning, compared with 92% nationally. 

Martha Billings, MD, a physician at the Sleep Medicine Center at Harborview, suggested this pre-bedtime routine: 

  • Limit excess bedding. 
  • Circulate air around your bedroom with a fan in front of an open window. 
  • Drink cold water. 
  • Don’t exercise vigorously in the evening. 

Consistent sound such as white noise might also provide comfort or distraction. “Some white noise I think can be helpful to kind of cut down on the environmental noises because everyone has their window open,” says Billings, an associate professor of pulmonary, critical care, and sleep medicine at the University of Washington School of Medicine, in a release. 

Showering before bed can also be beneficial, she notes in the release. A warm or cool water, depending on your preference, may help you cool down. “Take a hot shower to kind of vasodilate or taking a cool shower and just getting especially your head wet,” says Billings in the release. “That can really cool your body down and then kind of relax you as well.”  

With heat waves occurring more frequently, investigators from the European Insomnia Network explored in a 2022 study how outdoor nighttime temperature changes affect body temperature and sleep quality. Their review of the literature, published in the Journal of Sleep Research, indicated that environmental temperatures outside the thermal comfort can strongly affect human sleep by disturbing the body’s ability to thermoregulate.

The authors noted that certain groups—such as older adults, children, pregnant women, and individuals with psychiatric conditions—may be especially vulnerable to the sleep-disruptive effects of heat waves. They also offered several coping methods adapted from elements of cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia.