How to Sleep with a Sunburn

They’re hot, they itch, and they hurt. Read on for tips to sleep more comfortably after getting sunburned.

Sunburns not only leave us with uncomfortable skin during the day, but also at night. Skin damaged by the sun can sabotage sleep – sometimes for a few nights at a time – but thankfully, there are some tried and true ways to find a little relief.

How Sunburns Can Sabotage Sleep

Sunburns are caused by overexposure to ultraviolet (UV) light – which can happen on the sunniest, hottest day, or on a cool, cloudy day. To heal the damaged skin cells after too much time in the sun, our bodies send extra blood to the skin, which is why sunburns appear so red. A bad sunburn may take several days (or even longer) to heal.

Sunburns can lead to uncomfortable, swollen skin that’s hot to the touch. Painful, tight, itchy skin – plus the potential headache, fever, nausea and chills sometimes caused by severe burns – can make it hard to fall and stay asleep.

How to Get Some Relief

Rule number one for healing your skin and making it feel better after a painful burn? Get out of the sun immediately. “And if you have a really severe sunburn all over your body, you need to go to the emergency room,” says Dr. Ronda Farah, M.D. dermatologist and assistant professor at the University of Minnesota Department of Dermatology. The following seven tips won’t necessarily change the course of your sunburn, but they can help you feel a little better – and get more shut-eye – while your skin heals.

  1. Drink plenty of water.

    Sunburns draw fluid to the skin, which can lead to dehydration, so it’s a good idea to drink plenty of water throughout the day.

  2. Moisturize.

    Once you get out of a cool shower or bath, gently pat your skin dry and apply moisturizer with vitamins A and E. “Usually we tell patients they can use aloe to calm down the pain,” Dr. Farah says. Aloe vera is both moisturizing and cooling. Look for 100-percent aloe vera gel, and chill it in the refrigerator for extra relief.

  3. Take aspirin or ibuprofen.

    Both of these anti-inflammatory medications can help reduce swelling, redness and discomfort. “Sometimes we’ll prescribe topicals or oral medications to help with the inflammation,” Farah says.

  4. Apply hydrocortisone.

    For especially itchy, swollen skin, apply hydrocortisone. Available in ointments, creams, sprays, and lotions, this topical medication can help reduce swelling, redness, itching and skin discomfort.

  5. Resist the temptation to rub ice on the skin.

    “If somebody puts an ice cube directly on the skin, that can harm it too,” Farah says. 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.

  6. Wear loose, breathable clothing.

    It’s a good idea to avoid constricting clothing on sunburned areas. “I wouldn’t wear something nylon,” Dr. Farah says. “But dermatologists really like cotton.”

  7. Learn from your mistake.

    Reflect on why and how you got a sunburn, and use your sunburn as a learning experience to prevent more sleepless nights, Dr. Farah suggests.

We hope you’ll never need the above 7 tips to sleep with a sunburn, but if you do (we’ve all been there – stuck without sunscreen, surprised how intensely tropical the sun was while vacationing, or wondering how you got burned when the sun wasn’t even out?!), we hope you find comfort so you can heal while you sleep. For more tips to sleep comfortably in the summer, check out our post on summertime sleeplessness.