Sunday 25 June 2023

How to help children get to sleep in hot weather

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A couple of years ago, our young teenage daughter found it extremely difficult to get to sleep when the weather was hot. She seems to have a high resting body temperature to start with - she is rarely ever dressed in anything more than lightweight summer PJs. She also has an electric tower fan switched on, pointing at her, all day AND all night long, every single day of the year. Of course the fan air doesn't automatically get colder when the weather gets hotter, so the higher temperatures, particularly at night time when she was trying to sleep, caused big issues. Higher levels of anxiety didn't help either; the more she realised she was too hot and stressed about trying to sleep, the more she would talk about it and not be happy to be left alone.

text how to help children sleep in hot weather on faded background of person in bed

It felt like a very long summer back then, even though hot days in the UK are really not all that common! 

Discovering a way to help your child drop off to sleep or stay asleep can feel like chasing the Holy Grail. We tried most of these suggestions in our house at various points over the years. Some might seem obvious but I learnt that it is always worth going back through the solutions list and trying again. Just because one option hasn't worked before doesn't mean it won't work in the future. And it might have worked in the past, then stopped working, but it could work again. When you're desperate, you will try anything, right?! My advice is to do whatever works for you and your family.

Lowering body temperature is proven to help aid sleep. So here are most of the ways we tried (with varying success) to lower temps.


tower fan which sits on the floor and is not too close to the bed works well in our house. Ours has a sleep timer which helps because our daughter has fears about electrical items being left on overnight.

A grey tower fan with text height 80cm to top from floor

WooZoo fans come highly recommended by many; I use one myself because they are fairly quiet and I find the low level noise quite soothing.

white desktop fan

There are lots of other fans to suit all budgets. My top tip is to first check the size of what you are ordering and figure out what position you will want it in (and where the sockets are so you know where the cord will have to go if there is one!).

Air Conditioning:

Not a cheap option but as our summers appear to be becoming increasingly hotter, we decided one of these portable air conditioner units could be a good investment. Once we managed to figure out how to keep the hose propped out of the window so the hot air blows out rather than in, it has worked a treat!

white portable air con unit

Cooling towels:

We found these super helpful for lowering temperatures quickly. After soaking them in cold water then wringing out, they stay cool for a long time - and can be re-activated by flicking them out. The clip on these packs mean they can be hung on any bag for easy access, brilliant if you are travelling anywhere for your summer holidays.

Cooling pads:

two blue rectangular cool pads

These are mats to put under or on top of pillows to cool them down - the idea is to pop them into the fridge or freezer for a while before bedtime to make them extra cool. Also available in bigger sizes for lying on or for putting under sheets.

Cooling lotions:

Mint foot oil or cream is cooling, as is aloe vera gel or something like this Deep Freeze roll on gel (which can also help with any heat itchiness). Again, it's good to keep these in the fridge so they are even cooler when applying. 

Blackout blinds:

It may sound obvious but blackout blinds can be especially helpful in summer time when the evenings are lighter for longer. Just make sure you are ordering the right size to fit your window because there are so many options out there. I have just ordered the ones above for our daughter's room so will report back!

Low or no-cost options:

Rice bags - this might involve a little bit of sewing but nothing too complicated. Simple bags sewn and filled half full with rice, then stored in the freezer so they are heavy and cold. Or use reusable food bags. Can then be put in the bed before sleep (in teatowels to avoid damp).

Frozen water bottles which can be rolled gently on the skin over a thin layer of fabric.

Frozen sheets - some people go as far as bed sheets put in the freezer before using (in a sealed bag) but I have to admit I’ve not found the time to try this yet!

Lying in an empty duvet cover and filling it with cold air from a fan could be a bedtime activity to help cool down. Or go outdoors just before bedtime - a quick burst in the garden for some cool air could help lower temperature and expend energy. Hot air rises so sleeping in a downstairs room for a while might help; for some, the novelty and 'fun' aspect of this would work well whereas others will need the predictability of their usual routine. A bath before bed is a good idea too because warm water actually helps the body temperature to drop. Soothing, relaxing bath oils could be added too.

Other suggestions

Here are some more ideas - not heat specific but they could help, especially if used in conjunction with the list above:

Night lights - our girls have both always had a night light on permanently throughout the night. It could be a simple night light which plugs into a socket like this: 

small plug in nightlight

Or a cute animal lamp like this cat shape which was a big hit in our house. These are made of silicone which means they are soft to touch and portable.

nightlight shaped as cat

The cat (or other animal) could double up as a ‘friend’ to watch over your child. When one of our girls was very young we bought her a jelly lamp which she loves and has used ever since - it cycles through several colours. Did you know that red is the best colour for night time?!

Daylight alarm clock - there are several models of these sunset clocks available. They lower light levels slowly to aid drifting off to sleep. Some models also wake you naturally with a gradual sunrise.

blue sphere alarm clock

Eye masks: Our girl used a fluffy cat eye mask with a soft backing for a few years. It always surprised me that she found this a good solution because she gets so hot generally - I would have thought the mask would increase heat, but it seems to work for her, as part of a bigger bedtime routine. There are many options for eye masks but here’s a panda version (because PanDAs are the mascot for the PDA Society).

panda face eye mask

There might be a general pattern of thought which says that only silence will work to induce sleep but for some it’s the opposite. Calm sounds can help soothe anxiety and ensure that the brain stops racing. Sounds such as the sea, rain or a rainstorm, or a rainforest. White noise, such as a fan or AC unit, is proven to help some people. A few years ago our daughter chose a YouTube video of some soothing piano music and we would leave that running on her iPad and switch it off once she was asleep. There are lots of apps that offer this kind of sound, or you could go for something all in one like this 'color noise sound machine' which offers the sounds together with nightlight and alarm function: 

picture of nightlight with text 25 soothing sounds

Stories are a good way of winding down for many - they are certainly guaranteed to make me drop off! Audio options tend to work well, whether that means CDs or Kindles set to play through speakers, or good old fashioned reading aloud. Amazon's Audible is a great option too - they often have certain books available free or good deals starting at 99pm for a book. Sign up for a 30-day free trial of Audible here: Amazon Audible.

TV or screens might also work - in a previous post titled ‘Autism, Gaming and Screen Time’ I explained that we haven't limited screen time for our children, or used it as a reward or punishment. On a handful of rare occasions our youngest daughter wanted to carry on watching YouTube videos until she fell asleep. I am glad it didn't become a habit for her but I appreciate that wouldn’t be the case for every child. I think using the iPad to drop off tied in with times when our daughter's brain was working even faster than before, and old YouTube videos were well known and therefore comforting for her. If it is the only thing that works for your child, don't feel bad about it. 

A speech ritual can help a lot at bedtime. Letting them know they are safe is important if they have fears about that - explain that the main doors and windows are locked if that will help. Talking your child through where you will be if they need you can be comforting - more so if the same words are used every night. Or maybe your child needs to say the same thing out loud in the same way every night - regardless of whether it makes any sense. Clothing or toys which smell of mum/dad/carer can also be comforting.

Other smells that can help include lavender - pillow spray is probably the most commonly used bedtime product and is easy to use. We had some success with a pulse point rollerball like this one:

small bottle of lavender smell with roller ball and box

Lush Sleepy lotion is often mentioned for giving good results, especially when used on the base of feet. An oil diffuser is another option but better for older children who might not be tempted to play with it, or else keep it high up, out of the way.

Weighted blankets are a solution that works for some - we reviewed a Snoozzy weighted blanket that worked for a few nights. Sometimes getting all tangled up in a sheet or duvet can be a problem and a sleeping bag might help. There’s no rule saying sleeping bags are for camping only - a cocoon type bag might keep your young person’s legs ‘together’. 

A better mattress and topper might help - just like adults, some children prefer them harder, some softer. Toppers tend to be cheaper than a new mattress, so maybe start there! We reviewed a Simba mattress three years ago and our girl still finds hers comfortable. New pillows are worth a try too. Hard, soft or full body length to cuddle or even rest legs on. Memory foam may suit some. I was sent a Simba pillow to try, and I won't sleep without it now - it's definitely a great investment.

Teddy fleece or brushed cotton sheets, duvet covers and pillow cases are great for softness. Our girl actually prefers 100% polyester because it’s soft and shiny and that’s the fabric feel she prefers. We’ve found it difficult to find in decent, non-kids branded designs though.

Sensory issues are particularly common among those with autism and ADHD, particularly proprioception which is your body's ability to sense movement, action, and location. One occupational therapist explained that an empty bed "can be scary if you don't know where your body is". Lots of teddies or extra pillows in bed may help.

Phew. As I said right back at the beginning, there are lots of sleep solutions given here and most certainly more which I haven't yet thought of. We've cycled through most of these over the years but I still find it helpful to keep this list to refer back to.

As we know, all of our children are unique individuals. That means that it might take two, six or even all of these options at any one time to help our children drift off. And what works one month may not last forever. So be prepared - when you are sleep deprived it is much harder to think of these solutions!

book cover with text matthew walker why we sleep

Finally, one last suggestion, although I'm only whispering this one because it's a book to read. And I know that parents of children with additional needs already tend to have large bedside towers of books so I wouldn't suggest it if it wasn't a good one. Maybe it could be your first free book while doing the Audible trial?! 'Why We Sleep'. It's fascinating, and definitely worth reading if you are considering (or already using) Melatonin. Enjoy!

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