7 tips to help you sleep better with a sunburn

From soft pyjamas to cold compresses, here’s how to get a good night's sleep with a sunburn

A woman applying sun cream to her arms
(Image credit: Philippe Murray-Pietsch / Unsplash)

I’m not sure if you’ve noticed, but the UK has been experiencing a bit of a heatwave. While you’re out basking in the sunny weather, it’s always important to apply sun cream to keep your skin healthy and protected, otherwise you could experience an ever-dreaded sunburn.

Despite it being quite funny to see your friend’s arm looking like a Drumstick Squashie (look it up!), sunburn is no joke. Not only is it painful and unattractive, but it can cause skin damage and lead to more serious issues like skin cancer. Sunburn can also be extremely uncomfortable when you’re trying to sleep, as it takes between four to six hours for sunburn and its symptoms to fully develop.

Sunburn might feel worse at night for a number of reasons. Aside from developing symptoms, the pain of sunburn can feel more intense when you’re lying down on the best mattress and when your skin comes into contact with your bedding. So, if you’ve neglected to put on your sun cream or the one you picked was too weak a factor for your skin, here are seven tips to help you sleep with a sunburn.

1. Take a cool shower or use a cold compress

Aside from the pain and discomfort, sunburn raises your body temperature so you might feel hotter and more uncomfortable when you turn in for the night. So before you hit the sheets, take the time to cool your body down by having a cool shower. Cold showers aren’t the most enjoyable thing in the world, so if you’d rather avoid a chilly rinse or you have a smaller area of sunburn, use a cold compress instead to cool and relieve your skin.

2. Apply soothing creams

To treat sunburn, you need to keep your skin moisturised to soothe the pain and help your body to recover. After your cold shower, apply creams like aftersun, aloe vera or moisturiser to the affected area to take care of your skin and avoid blisters. There are many creams on the market that can help treat sunburn, including hydrocortisone (steroid) creams, but you should consult your doctor or a pharmacist before you use these.

best women's moisturiser

(Image credit: Shutterstock / Lyubov Levitskaya)

3. Wear loose fitting clothes

The main reason sleeping with sunburn is so uncomfortable is because there’s excess material in your sleep set-up that can rub against your skin. I’ll get on to bedding in the next tip, but for nightwear, stick to loose fitting clothes so nothing rubs too harshly or close to your skin. Not only is it painful, but the friction can damage your skin further. Looser clothing is more comfortable and sensitive to your skin, and materials like silk or cotton are light and breathable (check out the 5 best cooling fabrics for a heatwave for more).

4. Switch to silk, bamboo or cotton bedding

While you might want to ditch your duvet and blankets during a heatwave, I personally can’t sleep unless I have some kind of throw over me, which can be uncomfortable when you have sunburn. The material of the best sheets can act in the same way as your pyjamas and make your sunburn worse by rubbing against you. Instead, switch your bedding to cooling and breathable materials, like silk, bamboo or cotton.

5. Stay hydrated

This tip might be at spot number five but it’s arguably the most important tip for if you’re experiencing sunburn. Too much sun can leave you feeling dehydrated, and as you’re rehydrating your skin externally with moisturiser, you need to do the same internally with water. Drinking water can help your body recover by replenishing the fluids you’ve lost while sitting in the sun. It can also help your body heal your skin faster and flush out toxins. If you don’t just want to drink water, take a look at the 5 most (and least) hydrating drinks for a heatwave.

woman drinking water after marathon

(Image credit: Getty Images)

6. Adjust your bedroom temperature

As I explained above, your body’s temperature rises when you have sunburn, so to help counter this issue, you can adjust your bedroom temperature. Experts have found that sleeping in a cold room is better for you, as it helps lower your body temperature to help you fall asleep faster, plus it can speed up your metabolism and reduce stress. Try opening your windows to welcome in a cooling breeze or turning on your best fan to cool you and your room down before you go to sleep.

7. Take pain medications for painful burns

If your sunburn is particularly excruciating or you’ve got blisters, taking paracetamol or other painkillers can help ease the pain. But remember to go to your doctor if your sunburn treatment routine isn’t working and you’re experiencing symptoms like lightheadedness, a fever, nausea and extreme pain and blisters.

For more sun cream tips, here’s 5 reasons you should use sunscreen every day.

Bethan Girdler-Maslen
Home Editor

Beth is Home Editor for T3, looking after style, living and wellness. From the comfiest mattresses to what strange things you can cook in an air fryer, Beth covers sleep, yoga, smart home, coffee machines, grooming tools, fragrances, gardening and much more. If it's something that goes in your house, chances are Beth knows about it and has the latest reviews and recommendations! She's also in the know about the latest deals and discount codes from top brands and retailers.

Having always been passionate about writing, she’s written for websites, newspapers and magazines on a variety of topics, from jewellery and culture, to food and telecoms. You can find her work across numerous sites, including Wedding Ideas Magazine, Health & Wellbeing, The Bristol Post, Fashion & Style Directory, TechRadar, CreativeBloq and more. In her spare time, Beth enjoys running, reading, baking and attempting craft projects that will probably end in disaster!