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How Heat Waves Are Messing Up Your Sleep


Sleeping less than 7 hours a night on a regular basis (the minimum for adults) has also been linked to conditions such as heart disease, obesity and type 2 diabetes. “People try to do a short sleep during the week and then make it up on the weekend, but you can never fully understand the health and cognitive benefits of getting the right sleep during the week,” Miller said.

With climate change, many people around the world are now experiencing hot, sleepless nights. Compared to the early 2000s, warmer nighttime temperatures mean that globally, everyone loses an average of 44 hours of sleep per year compared to 2010. It also means that, on average, adults get 11 extra nights of sleep each year when they get less than the required 7 hours of sleep.

As temperatures continue to rise, people may miss more. A recent study linked the sleep-tracking wristbands of more than 47,000 people in 68 countries to local weather data and predicted that by the end of the century, individuals could lose 50 hours of sleep per year compared to 2010. Another six hours of loss distributed over a year between now and then may not seem like much, but it would result in about 13 extra short nights of sleep, which is not welcome.

The study’s researchers also looked at whose sleep was most disturbed. “We hypothesized and expected that those already living in warmer climates would be better adapted to warmer nighttime temperatures,” said Kelton Minor, a doctoral student at the University of Copenhagen’s Centre for Social Data Science and lead author of the study. “Our findings are quite the opposite.” According to an analysis based on data from 2015 to 2017, a 1-degree increase in nighttime temperatures appears to affect people in the warmest regions of the world more than twice as much as in the coldest regions.

They also found that sleep loss per degree of warming appeared to be greater among women, older adults and populations in low-income countries. While the study design does not allow for causal inferences as to why this is the case, some speculations can be made based on existing research: Women’s bodies typically cool earlier in the night in preparation for sleep, so women are faced with hotter, warmer temperatures when their sleep wave begins. would be more destructive. Women also have higher levels of subcutaneous fat, which may slow down the cooling process at night, making it more difficult to control body temperature during a heatwave. The body produces less melatonin as we age, which may explain why older adults have a harder time regulating their body temperature when they are too hot.

Fans and air conditioners help dissipate heat or cool bedrooms, but most people in low-income countries do not have access to such devices. Beyond that, sleep researcher Bloom doesn’t have a single way to get enough sleep on a hot night. “From a sleep physiology standpoint, anything that helps lower body temperature makes sense,” she said. Even simply sleeping or not covering up at all, or taking a cool hand-foot bath before bed can be useful — as long as the water isn’t too cold, otherwise the body will start to compensate and generate heat, she says.

Removing electronics from the room (which can get hot), closing curtains, blinds, and windows during the day, and staying hydrated can also help. “You just have to try it. The most important thing is to relax,” Bloom said. But it’s easier said than done when you’re lying there hot and sweaty.

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