The surprising health benefits of napping outside in hot weather

Woman napping outdoors. (Getty Images)
There are some sleep benefits to napping outdoors, especially in the hot weather. (Getty Images)

We may be rejoicing about the late arrival of the British summer (hello heatwave!), but the hot weather can have a knock-on impact on our sleep.

If you've been tossing and turning in bed at night, you're definitely not alone with over half of us (51%) finding it hard to snooze in sticky times.

Thankfully, there's a solution to help get your slumber back on track this summer – napping outdoors during the day, if you can.

Sleeping outdoors is standard practice for Scandinavians and their little ones, and is a great way to be at one with nature, but there are also plenty of sleep benefits to taking a nap outside.

One Finnish study found that children who nap outside tend to sleep for considerably longer (and enter a more restorative state of slumber) than they would inside.

And there are plenty of other plus points to getting your snooze on in the great outdoors.

Fresh air can aid deeper relaxation

Turns out one of the main reasons we can't nod off when it's hot is due to the impact the heat has on our body temperature.

“Many of us struggle to sleep in humid summer evenings, and this is because along with nighttime darkness, one of the main cues for sleep is a decrease in our internal body temperature," explains Dave Gibson, sleep expert and founder of The Sleep Site told Paving Superstore.

"This drop helps initiate sleep, however, when it’s too hot, our core body temperature can’t fall by the necessary one to two degrees Celsius, making it difficult to fall asleep."

So, if you’re struggling to sleep indoors in stuffy, humid conditions, you might find it easier to fall asleep outside in the shade.

"Fresh air can help promote deeper relaxation and help restore you mentally and physically. Furthermore, being in nature can reduce stress levels and improve mood, and in turn, can improve your sleep quality," Gibson explains.

"Just keep in mind, that sleeping in a new environment can take some adjustment due to the ‘first night effect’. This is where part of the brain stays slightly alert, which might make it harder to fall asleep initially, but it usually wears out after the second time."

Woman napping outside. (Getty Images)
Experts say there are many benefits of a snooze in the great outdoors. (Getty Images)

Timing is key

It seems the Spanish could be on to something as the time of the day we take an outdoor nap can make a difference to the benefits.

"The optimal time of day to nap is during the Siesta period just after lunch when our circadian rhythm is naturally set to catch up on any missed sleep from the night before," Gibson explains.

"It’s also okay to have a power nap in the morning as a short power nap of 20-30 minutes can help increase mental alertness, improve mood and boost short-term energy levels."

To ensure your nap doesn't run on too long, Gibson recommends setting your alarm before drifting off to sleep or drinking a cup of coffee before you nap.

"It takes around 20 minutes for caffeine to enter your system, which should wake you up,” he adds.

While it's tempting to beat the 4 o' clock flop by snoozing for longer Gibson says naps and especially full cycle naps should be avoided from the late afternoon onwards and close to bedtime.

"Napping then will prevent you from falling asleep at your usual bedtime by reducing your sleep drive and need for sleep," he explains. "Always remember to remain mindful of using naps to compensate for reduced night-time sleep and to consult a healthcare provider if you are struggling to sleep at night."

Seek out shade, so you don’t overheat

Choosing the right location to have your nap is key to aiding a blissful night's sleep.

"If you centre yourself in the sun, you could be at risk of sunburn, so for your safety, it's best to locate yourself in a part of your outdoor area that has shade," explains Georgina Read, director at Paving Superstore.

If you decide you want to nap during the day, make sure you put on your sunscreen beforehand to protect you against sun exposure as well as insect repellent to ward off bugs while you nap.

Amp up the outdoor comfort

If you’re looking to clock up the zzz’s it pays to make your outdoor napping area as comfy as possible.

Read recommends adding some cushions and a lightweight throw to your lounger/chair for a better napping experience.

"If possible, recline your chair to a 30 to 60-degree angle, as doing this will help aid a more comfortable sleep,” she adds.

“If you want to elevate your napping experience further, consider purchasing a footrest, as this can help you feel more elevated as you sleep and prevent your legs from dangling uncomfortably.”

Woman taking a nap in a hammock. (Getty Images)
Time for an outdoor nap? (Getty Images)

Ease into your nap by reading or listening to white noise

There are some steps you can take to ensure you fall asleep more quickly in the great outdoors.

"Whether you enjoy jotting down your thoughts on paper or keeping your mind engaged by reading compelling stories, having a book beside you encourages you to sit back and unwind and let your mind run freely," Read advises.

"Listening to white noise is also another great way to help you ease into your nap," she continues. "Because white noise has all the frequencies within the audible sound spectrum, it helps mask out background noise and create a tranquil sleep environment, allowing you to fall into a peaceful slumber.”

Gibson adds: "To ensure a good night’s sleep outside, you should also consider how to combat any light that might prevent you from falling or staying asleep. An eye mask is a great way to block light and create a dark environment to help you drift into your sleep much quicker.”