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How to sleep on hot nights - Heatwave Tips E-mail

Beating Barcelona's humidity

How to sleep on a hot night? Heatwave tips

Updated 2016 

Ways to sleep in a heatwave and tips for sleeping on hot nights and getting a good night's sleep in a heatwave (called ola de calor in Spanish.)

Many parts of Spain including Barcelona often have tropical-like hot and steamingly humid summer nights.  Barcelona has a wonderful sunny and warm climate - Read about Barcelona weather - but the coastal location on the Mediterranean Sea makes it very hot and very humid in the summer, so sleeping through the sticky hot nights of July and August is a challenge without air-conditioning.

Many older apartments (and some hostels) in Barcelona don’t have air-conditioning so for the hot sticky summer months of July and August many choose to keep the sun blinds down all day, keep plenty of cold gazpacho soup in the fridge and stay outdoors as much as possible. 

The Spanish then adapt their lifestyle to the heat. Taking a siesta in the afternoon, when the day is hottest , gives you the energy to work later, when it's cooler. It gives you more energy to be active into the night, so that you can go to bed later, usually around 1am in the morning, when it is cooler and easier to fall sleep.

Next morning you start a bit later. Nine or nine thirty is a common time to start work in Spain. When it gets too hot usually in August, the logical solution is to take the whole month off and go on holiday, which is still what a large percent of Spanish families do. So what some people regard as a lazy man’s lifestyle is really a tried and tested formula for living in a hot climate.

Getting to sleep on a hot night
Air-conditioning is not always a popular solution. Air-conditioning is expensive. It is not very eco-friendly and not particularly healthy. But there are many way to beat the heat without resorting to air conditioning. Here are a few inexpensive and effective tips tricks to beat the heat and get to sleep on a hot night.

"Keep the blinds closed"
First of all it’s important to keep those hot sun rays out. Most people in Barcelona keep the blinds down all day all summer.  Only northern Europeans, accustomed to feeble sun rays that hold no warmth of significance,  dream of  the sunlight streaming in every morning like the Star Trek transportation room.  The rays of the sun in Spain are much stronger and keeping them out keeps the rooms cooler.  So keep those shades down! You will also find that many Spanish flats have interior bedrooms with no direct sunlight at all and just a window out to an air shaft or courtyard. This might seem stifling to a northerner, but it’s cooler and quieter in the summer and warmer in the winter.
Of course when the mercury hits 30 degrees celsius ( 86 fahrenheit ) indoors at night, then you might wish you had bought that air-conditioning unit after all, or accepted the night watchmans job at Corte Ingles, but fear not! Here are more  tips! For most of the methods described below, remember to keep the door to your bedroom open to ensure proper air circulation from other rooms. Most of the methods below are dampness evaporating methods and air circulation is imperative. Just having a window open is enough.

Buy a fan man!"Use a fan, man" 
Perspiration, or sweat, is your body's way of cooling itself down. But if the air is very humid and moist, your sweat has difficulty evaporating. So nature needs a helping hand. Get a small fan and put it beside your bed. A cheap box fan will do the trick nicely. You can get them at
Barcelona hipermarkets or at white goods stores like Miro for 15 to 20 euros.

Most box fans have alternating speeds and rotating fans, so choose the lowest and quietest setting and position it on a chair next to the bed. so that it will gently and soothingly help your perspiration evaporate, which will cool you down and help you fall asleep. Some fans have timers, so that you can use them to fall asleep.  This is a good energy saving feature, but if it's a very hot night, then you will probably wake up in a couple of hours bathed in sweat, in which case you might want to leave the fan on all night. Be sure that the fan does not blow directly into your face, which can cause sinus problems and keep the fan clean before to avoid dirt and dust particles blowing into your face. Having a fan on will use some power, but nowhere the energy gobbling levels of air-conditioning.

“Damp sheet”
Use cold water to soak a thin bed sheet. Then wring it either by hand or in the spin-dryer of the washing machine. Hang the sheet in front of a fan to boost the cooling effect of the fan. This creates an "MacGyver" style evaporation cooler device that will cool your room down for an hour or so while you fall asleep. It's a simple homemade air-conditioner and uses little energy. 

“Damp sheet” trick v. 2.0"

For even better results place the fan in an open window, so you are blowing cooler air from outside into your bedroom onto the moist sheet. Make sure the fan doesn’t fall out of the window though. That would not be cool! If you can’t hang the sheet in front of the fan, then just drape the moist cotton sheet over yourself and position the fan so that the breeze is blowing gently over you. This will have the same evaporating effect for a good while and should certainly cool you enough to help you fall asleep.

"Wear damp clothes”
The reason that our mothers kept telling us to put a hat and gloves on when it was cold outside, is that heat loss primarily happens through the head, hands and feet. The average adult loses 30% of body heat from their head alone. Just reverse your mother’s advice and try and keep your head cool, not hot! You want to lose heat from your head, hands and feet, because it will lower the overall temperature of your skin and body This is why the pith helmet was invented. Not to make natives of hot countries die laughing, because of a very silly shape, but it is designed to keep the scalp cool in a hot climate. Visit  and you will read that:

Pith helmets cool your head“The pith, or cork, of certain trees lent itself as the basis of a headgear that was strong and protective and at the same time lightweight and comfortable. Furthermore, the absorbing property of this natural material provided the bonus feature of allowing the wearer to immerse the hat in water keeping him or her cool during evaporation. “

It's not comfortable to wear a safari helmet in bed but try wearing other damp garments. Find a thin T-shirt or tank top, thin socks or a sports wrist band. Rinse these items in ice cold water.  To get the water cold use ice cubes or put a bottle of tap water in the fridge just for this purpose. Then wring the garments out so that they are still moist and wear them to bed with the fan gently blowing cool air over you. I hear you laughing now, but you will be thank me later. Basically the evaporation from these damp garments will help to keep you cool your body down for long enough to let you fall asleep. Of course you might get so tired from all the exercise that you will fall asleep no matter what the temperature is!

Stick feet out from under sheets
This trick is as simple as it is clever. Sleep with your feet out from under the sheets, which will let body heat will escape via your feet.  It should be used in combination with other tricks on a very hot night though.

Ice cold water bottle
Try filling a big plastic bottle with water. Don’t fill it completely or it will split. Water expands when frozen you will recall from your school days. So ¾ full and then put the bottle in the freezer.  Stand one or two of these frozen water bottles right in front of the fan and you might take a degree or two off the fan’s cooling air! So simple yet so efficacious!

Sleep naked
This trick works quite well, especially with a fan involved, but it only works if you are alone and thinking cool, crisp and pure thoughts. Avoid any other thoughts because physical bodily exertions will only make the blood pump faster and boiling blood is absolutely the last thing you want if you want to stay cool on a hot night! Also if you are a sleep walker remember to keep the blinds down!

Cold shower wet hair
Have a refreshing cool shower. Then leave your hair wet. This works best if you have hair. If you don’t have hair, that’s actually even better, because that is automatically cooler. If you have long hair, then consider getting short hair for the summer. The shorter the hair the cooler your scalp and so the cooler the body.

Ice cold water in hot water bottle
Fill a hot water bottle with ice cold water and leave it the fridge. When it is freezing, not frozen, place it by your feet in bed! Or under your pillow. Or both! Delicious! A strange but similarly effective method is to make a ice cold Rice sock compress. Visit the link below to see how that is done. Note that they stress that a clean sock is necessary. If you use a dirty sock, the fumes could kill you, when the sock heats up.   

Use a smaller pillow
The head is the hottest part of your body and needs to be as cool as possible. A smaller and less comfy and soft pillow will allow much more air circulation around your head. Try an embroidered sofa cushion, a piece of wood (that’s what they use as pillows in parts of Africa) or try a Japanese buckwheat cushion.

This is not a smaller pillow!

The picture above is not a japanese buckwheat pillow, but the lesser known "Japanese lap nap pillow" which probably won't cool you well because it might make you feel pretty hot in certain regions. Best during winter months.

Sleep around
We don’t mean sleep somewhere else with someone else! Just sleep somewhere else in the flat, where it is cooler until the very hot nights have gone. Heat rises. Stand on a chair and check the temperature near the ceiling if you don’t believe us. So sleep on the floor! The old flats of Barcelona often have tiled floors because they are much cooler in the summer (and downright freezing in the winter!).  So take advantage of that and sleep on the tiles. It will be much cooler. Not directly on the tiles unless you are a hardened camper or scoutmaster, but you could got to Ikea or the local mattress store (colchon) store and get a cheap foam mattress that is still comfortable, but much thinner. The walls of a flat or house absorb heat making it warmer inside. So sleep outside if you can. Even when the temperature peaks at night, it will always be cooler outside than inside. Or sleep on the balcony or terrace if your have one. A cheap mosquito net will keep the bugs away.

Sleep in mid-air
You don’t have to be a illusionist to do this one. Buy a hammock and sleep in it! No abracadabra needed. A mattress absorbs your body heat and keeps you hot. That’s why you can go to sleep feeling cold and wake up feeling really hot. Your mattress is hotter because of your body temperature.  Hot humid weather makes you sweat and the moisture between your body and the mattress will have difficulty evaporating. Snoozing the night away in a hammock will let the air flow freely around your entire body. Much cooler.  Don't combine naked sleeping trick with hammock trick. You might get rope burns in awkward places!

Don’t be sunburnt
Stay out of the sun. At least don’t stay in the sun too long. Sunburn makes the job of heat dissipation almost impossible. You will never get much sleep if you are sunburnt.

Free air conditioning
Well, almost free. Go to the late show at the movies. It’s not really free because you have to buy a movie ticket. Barcelona cinemas have excellent air-conditioning! Pick a really boring and long movie in a language you don’t speak at all, and you will get a good couple of hours sleep. Avoid action movies. 

Final tips to stay cool in the summer
Remember to stay hydrated at all times. It is easy to overheat and a lot more difficult to cool down your body once you are in an overheated state Your body needs lots of fluids to keep its cooling system working. So drink lots of water even when you don’t feel like it. The recommended intake is about 2 litres a day. Stay away from sugary drinks, sweets, caffeine, and alcohol. They will dehydrate you. Have a big drink before going to bed, and keep a bottle of water by the bed or a thermos with ice cold water in it, so that you do not dehydrate at night. In extreme heat conditions, and it does get pretty hot in August in Barcelona, wear as little as possible as home. Or nothing! Another good reason to keep the blinds down! If you must wear something, then choose loose, flowing clothes that help with air circulation. And make them light-coloured. That’s what people who live in deserts do and there’s a good reason for it! It’s cooler. Food wise we recommend eating fruits like apples, watermelons etc. They contain water and keep you well hydrated. Don’t cook so many hot meals in the hottest months. Cooking adds heat to the flat and to your body. Whiz up the blender and get some cold soups and salads going and how about some refreshing fruit smoothies. Yum. Healthy and cooling.

That’s all the tricks and tips we have for you and we hope you find some of them useful. Write to us and tell us if any of them actually work. Remember that fans work on electricity, so we take no responsibility for anyone educationally challenged enough to even think of using electric fan near a cold bath. Using a fan in the bath is not evaporation, but incineration. Different result entirely. Use your common sense (sentido común) and you will be fine. We recommend that you also check these heatwave and sunstroke precautions

Buenas noches y que duermas bien.

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