How to Get Good Sleep When You Have a Sunburn (2022)

For some people, summertime is as synonymous with gnarly sunburns as with backyard BBQs, pool days, and beach trips. And while having fun in the sun is what summer’s all about, sunburns do more than just affect you physically — they can also burn your chance of a great night’s sleep.

What happens to your body when you get a sunburn?

Sunburns are a result of damage to the DNA of the skin cells. So, essentially, a tan signals that the cells have been damaged and are dying. The actual burn, or the redness that you perceive, is the result of inflammation from dilated blood vessels that allow your body to remove those dead, damaged skin cells.

The burn may be because you spent too much time in the sun, but your ability to tan vs. burn is genetically determined by your skin phonotype, which is based on how much melanin your skin produces when exposed to the sun. People with fair skin have less melanin than those with darker skin tones, making them more susceptible to burns, which can lead to freckles, suspicious moles, and even skin cancer.

Despite your best efforts to stay protected from or avoid the sun, being outdoors in the summer may leave you with a burn. If the damage to your skin is done, here's how to minimize its effects tonight.

(Video) Overcoming Sunburn for a Good Night's Sleep

How to cool your sunburn down and fall asleep

The best way to protect your precious nighttime Zzz’s is to practice thorough sunburn prevention in the first place, of course. Easy tips from dermatologists and experts include avoiding the sun between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., wearing protective clothing, and applying (and reapplying!) sunscreen throughout the day, particularly if you’ve been in the water.

How to Get Good Sleep When You Have a Sunburn (1)

But once you have a burn, these remedies might help:

  • Cold compresses:Soak a clean cloth in ice water, then apply it on the inflamed areas for five minutes. Do this a couple of times to help relieve pain and reduce swelling.If your skin is feeling especially fiery, you can also wrap ice in a washcloth (or even frozen peas in a dish towel) and apply in 10- to 15-minute intervals, but never apply ice directly to inflamed skin, as you can worsen the damage.
  • Cool showers: When it's hot outside, a cool shower can help prepare your body for sleep; when you're sunburned a cool shower can feel amazing and cool you off before bed. The key is not to make the water too cold — you'll risk waking yourself up — and don't scrub or use astringent cleaners while you're showering, so that your skin can heal.
  • Pain relievers:In some cases, taking Tylenol or ibuprofen can help relieve discomfort. Plus, it has anti-inflammatory effects that may help the skin heal.
  • Aloe vera:Apply gelor creamcontaining aloe vera (known to provide natural anti-inflammatory benefits!) to help moisturize, soothe, and cool the inflamed skin.If you’re prone to burns, try keeping a bottle in the fridge — that additional cooling element can feel great when your skin is warm.
  • Sleepwear:Too much friction can aggravate the sunburn, so choosing fabrics like jersey cotton, loosely woven linen or silk can offer a bit more comfort. Pro tip:Sleeping nude mayactually beyour best bet, unless your sheets are harsh on the skin. (In that case, it may be time for new sheets. Choose between linen,jerseycotton, or bamboo).
  • Moisturizer:All that sun has dehydrated your skin, so moisturizer will help with the healing. Because the skin barrier has been damaged, choosing a moisturizer with no fragrances or harmful irritants willhelp your skin to heal faster and provide more relief.
  • Shade:Staying out of the sun when you are already burnt prevents a sunburn from getting worse. Don’t let the sun’s rays dig deeper into your skin.
  • Hydration: Water is critical for replenishing your body after sun exposure. Try to drink just enough to hydrate yourself, but not so much that you'll need to wake up overnight to use the bathroom. This is also a good time to minimize alcohol.

If you find your normal sleep position is being agitated by your sunburn, try the tips above before resorting to a brand-new sleep style, but know that it's normal to kick off sheets or toss and turn when you're hot.

Keep in mind that if your sunburn includes symptoms like severe blisters, skin infections, excessive discoloration, or sustained fever, nausea, chills, and dehydration — it’s time to see a doctor.

(Video) HOW TO TREAT A SUNBURN | WITH DR. SANDRA LEE

Why does a sunburn feel worse at night?

After the initial redness and inflammation, it’s natural to assume your skin couldn’t get any worse. However, a sunburn can actually take about one to three days to fully develop, meaning the irritation you feel on day one may continue to advance throughout the night, affecting your sleep.

Below are four of the biggest ways a bad sunburn can affect your sleep:

  • Sunburns can result in a fever, chills, itching,and a burning sensation that makes it uncomfortable to fall asleep and, if painful enough, stay asleep.
  • Sunburns can lead to dehydration, which may cause you to up your water intake. However, lots of water can cause you to wake up (a lot) in the middle of the night to use the bathroom.
  • Poortemperature regulationfrom feeling feverish or feeling hot and cold in different areas of your bodycan cause sleep issues too, especially if you’restruggling to get comfortable.The ideal temperature for sleep is a chilly 65-68 degrees, so if you're feverish from a sunburn, it can be even harder for your body to reach that optimal sleep temperature.
  • Lastly, if lying on your back or having sheets touch your burned skin is painful, the discomfort will make it difficult to fall — and stay — asleep.

“What are a few lousy nights of sleep really going to do to me in the long run?” you ask. The answer: a lot. Keep in mind that with every night of low-quality sleep, your overall sleep debt continues to expand and can take exponential recovery time.

If a sunburn is severe enough to wake you up, get out of bed and try some of the above tips, like applying a cool compress, taking a pain reliever, or drinking water. If you're worried it'll wake you up later, try freezing a water bottle that you can bring to bed and rest atop your sheets as a cooling device, like summer's answer to a hot water bottle. There are also higher-tech products for hot sleepers, like the Ebb CoolDrift Versa.

Oops, I slept in the sun again — why does this keep happening?

How to Get Good Sleep When You Have a Sunburn (2)
(Video) What Actually Happens When You Get a Sunburn

You might have heard that the sun is good for sleep — and probably thought those vitamin D naps were good for you — and to a degree, the sun is good for sleep. But being tired after a full day of sun exposure doesn’t mean you’ve unlocked the secret to falling asleep. Your body is doing a whole heck of a lot more than you thought as you were lounging by the ocean.

What’s causing the total fatigue after a beach day is your body’s attempt to combat the effects of prolonged exposure, namely: constant temperature regulation, dehydration and chemical changes in your blood related to sunburns.

This doesn't mean you should completely avoid going outside, though. Our bodies are chemically attuned to live in harmony with the rise and fall of the sun. When the sun goes down, melatonin levels in our brains rise, signaling that it’s time for sleep, and when the sun rises, our hormone levels rise and tell our bodies, “It’s time to start the day, baby!”

The best sun protection is prevention

The benefits of enjoying sunlight (especially in the morning) can help us get our natural circadian rhythms set for the best sleep ever. But too much sun can disrupt our sleep both in physical and hormonal ways.

Sunburns are better prevented than treated — and remember, the long-term consequences of consistent overexposure to the sun include premature aging and wrinkles, the onset of sunspots and freckles, and in severe cases, the development of skin cancer.

As you spend time outdoors, simply reapplying sunscreen won’t protect you from feeling physically drained. You’ll want to stay in the shade during the hottest hours of the day, wear long sleeves or SPF-protective hats, or sit beneath an umbrella to help keep your skin out of direct sunlight. Not only will this prevent sunburns (which is the best method of avoiding sleepless summer nights), but you’ll be able to just enjoy the gorgeous day without worrying about your skin at night. Plan to get out first thing in the morning, before the sun is high enough in the sky. You'll minimize risk of a burn and help set your circadian rhythm by exposing yourself to morning sun.

(Video) What Really Causes Sunburns?

Lastly, don’t forget to hydrate. Sunburns continuously draw fluid from the skin, which can often leave you feeling fatigued and dry. Replenish your electrolytes throughout the day but avoiding drinking too much water right before bed, so you can sleep uninterrupted by any nighttime bathroom breaks.

FAQs

How do I sleep with a sunburn? ›

In addition to applying topicals, what you wear and the materials you sleep on can help you rest easier when healing from a sunburn. Wearing loose-fitting clothing is the best for sleep (Rawls-Meehan suggests a light cotton T-shirt or woven cotton pajamas). Reminder from Dr.

Is sleep good for sunburn? ›

Taking an NSAID such as ibuprofen immediately after you notice sunburn can help decrease inflammation and pain. Get lots of sleep. Sleep restriction disrupts your body's production of certain cytokines that help your body manage inflammation. This disruption can negatively affect your body's ability to heal itself.

Can't sleep because of sunburn itch? ›

Medications such as ibuprofen, aspirin, or naproxen can help relieve the pain and inflammation from hell's itch. Try an oral antihistamine. Drugs commonly used for allergy symptoms, such as Benadryl, may reduce itching and help a person sleep at night if hell's itch is keeping them awake. Use cool compresses.

Do sunburns get worse overnight? ›

Reason: there are no warning signs while the burn is occurring. Redness (sunburn) often is not seen until 4 hours after being in the sun. The pain and redness keep getting worse. They don't peak for 24 to 36 hours.

Is sunburn worse the second day? ›

In mild sunburn, the skin is red, hot and painful. Usually, the symptoms are noticed 6 hours or more after the first exposure and peak within 24 hours. Moderate or severe sunburn often begins the same way, but continues to progress –often peaking in the second 24 hours.

How long is a sunburn painful? ›

Sunburn pain in general lasts anywhere from one to three days, but more severe burns can sting for longer. Over-the-counter pain relievers and proper sunburn care can help you reduce this pain. Also, be sure not to pick at your skin. You might be tempted to touch blisters or peeling skin.

How heal sunburn fast? ›

How to treat sunburn
  1. Take frequent cool baths or showers to help relieve the pain. ...
  2. Use a moisturizer that contains aloe vera or soy to help soothe sunburned skin. ...
  3. Consider taking aspirin or ibuprofen to help reduce any swelling, redness and discomfort.
  4. Drink extra water.

When does sunburn pain peak? ›

Pain is often at its worst 6–48 hours after burning. If the skin is going to peel, it will usually start to happen 3–8 days after sun exposure. Although the immediate effects of sunburn should heal within days or weeks, the damage can have a much longer-lasting impact.

Do sunburns turn into a tan? ›

There's no guarantee that your sunburn will turn into a tan, especially if you're fair-skinned. Your best bet for a guaranteed tan (that's also safe) is to just do it yourself (or have someone else do it for you) with a self-tanner or a spray tan.

Why is my sunburn worse the next day? ›

Big skin-care news: A study has found that UV damage to the skin continues for hours after you've left the sun and that melanin—the pigment that gives skin its color—may be contributing to this damage.

How long does it take for sunburn to calm down? ›

Sunburn is hot and sore skin caused by too much sun. It may flake and peel after a few days. You can treat it yourself. It usually gets better within 7 days.

Why are sunburns worse after a shower? ›

Even if you're not in physical pain, taking hot showers can strip your skin of essential oils, which can dry it out even further and make it more sensitive, says Dr. Zeichner. This may lead to blistering and possibly prolong the healing process, adds Dr.

Should you wear clothes over sunburn? ›

Wearing loose clothing will help your skin feel better and heal more quickly. You should also wear clothing over your sunburn so you don't further damage your skin. Dark or brightly-colored clothing does a better job of keeping the rays off your skin than white or light colored fabric.

Should you shower after sunburn? ›

"But if you've already been sunburned, taking a cool shower or bath can be a helpful start." Dr. Kermott says the cool water from a shower, bath or cold compress works to tame the inflammation that occurs around a sunburn. Taking an anti-inflammatory medicine can help too.

Do cold showers help sunburn? ›

Bathe Frequently in Cold Water

But when you have sunburn, bathing with cold water can provide an extra sense of relief from the burning sensation of your sun damaged skin. Frequent cool or cold showers are a great way to relieve sunburn discomfort, but they may also dry out your skin.

Why does sunburn feel hot? ›

Immune invasion

This causes the skin's blood vessels to leak into the spaces between cells and other skin structures. It's this extra fluid and the swelling it causes that lead to the red skin, hot sensation and painful sensitivity of freshly sunburnt skin.

What is best for sunburn? ›

An aloe vera lotion or gel or calamine lotion can be soothing. Try cooling the product in the refrigerator before applying. Avoid products that contain alcohol. Drink extra water for a day to help prevent dehydration.

Should I let my burn breathe? ›

Should you cover a blister or let it breathe? It is recommended to leave the blisters intact if possible. If the blisters remain intact, you may not need to cover them. However, if the blisters are already broken or open, the blisters should be covered in a sterile bandage.

What is sun poisoning look like? ›

Itchiness, bumps, or blisters: The skin may become itchy, and bumps or blisters may appear on the affected area. Pain and swelling: The affected area of skin may be painful, and can have the appearance of eczema lesions. The skin may be red or swollen, as well.

How do you know how bad a sunburn is? ›

Signs of severe sunburn can include:
  1. blistering or swelling of the skin (oedema)
  2. chills.
  3. a high temperature (fever) of 38C (100.4F) or above, or 37.5C (99.5F) or above in children under five.
  4. dizziness, headaches and feeling sick (symptoms of heat exhaustion)
1 Nov 2021

Does a hot shower help with a sunburn? ›

Does a hot shower help a sunburn? No, it is a myth that taking a hot shower can ease the pain of a sunburn. In fact, taking a hot shower will make sunburn hurt even worse. On the other hand, cold showers can help to soothe a sunburn.

Can I put sunscreen on a sunburn? ›

While sunscreens may help with sunburns to an extent, you should be careful of other chemicals — such as trolamine salicylate — used in sunscreens as they may irritate the burn (via The Healthy). Instead, the FDA recommends using sunscreens containing zinc oxide, oxybenzone, and aminobenzoic acid (via FDA).

Why do sunburns make you cold? ›

A common reaction is shivering, which is the body trying to generate heat in an effort to compensate for the heat that is being lost. So, even while your skin feels hot to the touch, you shiver and feel chilled as your body tries to make up for the extra heat loss.

Can drinking water help sunburn? ›

HYDRATE TO REPLENISH LOST FLUIDS

Sunburn draws fluid to the skin's surface and away from the body. Be sure to drink plenty of water and sports drinks to replace lost body fluids and replenish electrolytes. This will help your burn heal more quickly.

How do you fade sunburn? ›

Ross suggests cool baths and patting, not rubbing, your skin dry. She also recommends you “apply hydrocortisone cream immediately after the bath, followed by a moisturizer that contains aloe vera or soy.” Keep your hands off. Treating your sunburn gently also means no scratching at or attempting to exfoliate it away.

Can black people get sunburn? ›

Health experts advise everyone, regardless of skin color, to use sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30. Although dark-skinned people won't get sunburned as quickly, they will still burn and are still susceptible to sun-induced damage—such as sun spots and wrinkles—and cancer .

Why does sunburn itch? ›

Sunburns are a result of damage to the top layer of skin, which contains a number of nerve fibers that are responsible for the itchy sensation. When UV rays damage this layer, it causes these nerves to activate, which makes you experience an increased amount of itchiness.

How do you sleep with a sunburn on your back and shoulders? ›

Rather than damage skin even more with something that's too cold, stick to a cool bath or shower or a cool compress to help reduce pain before bed. Wear loose, breathable clothing. It's a good idea to avoid constricting clothing on sunburned areas.

What does 2nd degree sunburn look like? ›

Second-degree sunburn symptoms

Blistering and swelling over a larger area. Wet-looking skin. Pain. White discoloration within the burn.

Should I cover my sunburn? ›

Protect sunburned skin as it heals

That's why if you have sunburn blisters—small, white, fluid-filled bumps on sunburned skin—you shouldn't pop them. Instead, loosely cover sunburn blisters with gauze to protect them.

Is it best to take a hot or cold shower when sunburned? ›

“Some of the things they use can be done in an easier way.” The first step is to get the heat out – the longer the heat remains in a burn the more damage and sorer it is going to be. A cold shower or pouring cold water directly on the sunburn is the easiest way to relieve the burn of heat.

How do you shower with a sunburn? ›

Stick to cool showers on the lowest pressure possible, or even a soak in a cool tub, until your skin has healed. Running cool baths allows you to submerge the burn as much as you want without worrying about strong pressure from the shower head. Try adding a few tablespoons of baking soda to your bath.

What is Hell's itch? ›

“Hell's itch is this deep, painful, almost throbbing, itch that happens one to three days after a sunburn, often on the upper back and shoulders,” says dermatologist Melissa Piliang, MD.

Why does sunburn hurt? ›

When your skin's DNA monitoring and repair system judges there's too much damage to fix, it flags the cells for destruction and calls in the immune system to finish the job. The immune cells and extra fluid squeezing into the skin cause the swelling, redness, heat and pain we know as sunburn.

Does shaving cream help sunburn? ›

There is no scientific evidence that using shaving cream can reduce the symptoms of sunburn. However, some shaving creams contain hydrating and moisturizing ingredients, such as aloe vera and vitamin E. These ingredients may help soothe irritation caused by sunburn.

Should you cover a sunburn or let it breathe? ›

The best way to heal a sunburn is to let your skin breathe. You can use a fragrance-free light moisturizer as long as it doesn't contain petroleum or benzocaine. One that contains aloe or soy may be beneficial.

Should I wear clothes over my sunburn? ›

Wear Loose Clothing

You want to minimize the amount of potential irritation to your sensitive skin. Wearing loose clothing will help your skin feel better and heal more quickly. You should also wear clothing over your sunburn so you don't further damage your skin.

What is the fastest way to get rid of a sunburn? ›

How to treat sunburn
  1. Take frequent cool baths or showers to help relieve the pain. ...
  2. Use a moisturizer that contains aloe vera or soy to help soothe sunburned skin. ...
  3. Consider taking aspirin or ibuprofen to help reduce any swelling, redness and discomfort.
  4. Drink extra water.

How long is a sunburn painful? ›

Sunburn pain in general lasts anywhere from one to three days, but more severe burns can sting for longer. Over-the-counter pain relievers and proper sunburn care can help you reduce this pain. Also, be sure not to pick at your skin. You might be tempted to touch blisters or peeling skin.

What makes sunburn worse? ›

Sunburn will become worse with more exposure to UV rays. Mild sunburn can be treated at home, but severe and blistered sunburn requires prompt medical attention.

Do sunburns turn into tans? ›

Do Sunburns Turn into Tans? After you heal from a sunburn, the affected area may be more tan than usual, but tanning is just another form of skin damage caused by ultraviolet radiation.

What are the stages of sunburn? ›

Types of sunburn
  • First-Degree Burn. The least harmful burn is the first-degree burn, also called superficial skin burn. ...
  • Second-Degree Burn. The second-degree type of burn, also called superficial partial-thickness burn, effects the top two layers of your skin. ...
  • Third-Degree Burn. ...
  • Fourth-Degree Burn.

Do hot showers help sunburns? ›

Does a hot shower help a sunburn? No, it is a myth that taking a hot shower can ease the pain of a sunburn. In fact, taking a hot shower will make sunburn hurt even worse. On the other hand, cold showers can help to soothe a sunburn.

How do you shower with a sunburn? ›

Stick to cool showers on the lowest pressure possible, or even a soak in a cool tub, until your skin has healed. Running cool baths allows you to submerge the burn as much as you want without worrying about strong pressure from the shower head. Try adding a few tablespoons of baking soda to your bath.

What helps heal a sunburn? ›

Try these self-care tips for sunburn relief:
  1. Take a pain reliever. ...
  2. Cool the skin. ...
  3. Apply a moisturizer, lotion or gel. ...
  4. Drink extra water for a day. ...
  5. Leave blisters alone. ...
  6. Treat peeling skin gently. ...
  7. Take an anti-itch drug. ...
  8. Apply a soothing medicated cream.
24 Jun 2022

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