Always remove your shirt at bedtime if you forget to apply suntan lotion and find your skin burned by the sun. The more nightclothes you wear, the more painful and prolonged your sunburn will be.
Sunburn involves UV rays penetrating the skin and damaging the cells beneath, which is why we often blister and peel. Wearing a shirt will rub against and aggravate sunburn on the back and shoulders, so it’s preferable to minimize clothing.
This is important at night when attempting to sleep. The impact of sunburn isn’t immediate, as it takes several hours to make itself known. This means discomfort will likely peak as you prepare for bed.
There are various benefits to sleeping naked, which are magnified if you have a sunburn. A shirt, especially a tight-fitting one, will feel sore against burned skin on the back and shoulders.
As well as being painful, this could cause the skin to open and bleed.
Sleep is vital to healing sunburn, as it allows the body to heal. Relieve any immediate pain, adjust your sleeping position, and remove your shirt.
This will help minimize the impact of sunburn, promoting a faster recovery.
Why Do Sunburns Get Worse at Night?
While sunburn is a consequence of UV exposure during the day, most of us only notice its impact at night because the effects of sunburn aren’t immediate.
It can take up to four hours to experience the associated pain and inflammation.
What’s more, we need to consider our posture and activity at night compared to the day. While spending time outside in daylight hours, it’s easy to assume that any sensations of heat on the skin are just a consequence of direct sunlight.
What we wear will also influence sunburn. You’ll likely wear a bathing suit if it’s hot enough outside to burn the skin. When the night arrives and brings a chilly breeze, you may put in a shirt, which then rubs and aggravates any burned skin.
Is it Better to Sleep Without a Shirt When Sunburned?
If you have sunburn, get out of the direct sun and remove as many clothes as you feel comfortable with. At the very least, don’t try to sleep in a shirt if you have burned your back and shoulders.
The only way that sunburn will heal is by exposing the damaged skin to air. Your burned skin needs to peel, making way for a healthy replacement. The body works to repair itself while you sleep, so removing your shirt will assist this process.
Any clothing, even if it is loose fitting, will also rub against your burned skin. As your skin becomes increasingly delicate when burned, friction will cause significant discomfort.
Sleeping naked is ideal if you have sunburn, as this also allows sun-damaged legs to recover from their ordeal. If you don’t feel comfortable with this, wear the lightest and loosest-fitting nightclothes possible. A silk nightshirt, for example, is preferable to cotton pajamas.
As well as removing clothing before bed, seriously consider taking any covers off the bed. Sleeping without blankets also has a range of benefits, and by stripping away this extra layer, you’ll reduce the risk of prolonged pain.
What to Do if You Can’t Sleep Because of Sunburn
The discomfort caused by sunburn will likely make you miserable, making the idea of simply heading to bed until your skin heals appealing. What’s more, sunburn can be exhausting as your body needs to fight hard to hydrate and repair damaged skin cells.
You may need to adjust your sleeping position if you have sunburn, especially on the back, shoulders, or the back of the legs. Soreness on the skin in these locations will make the supine sleeping position extremely uncomfortable.
Arguably the best sleeping position with sunburn is the prone position – lying on the stomach with the head turned to one side. If you also sleep without a shirt or blankets, this will expose the back and shoulders to the air and promote healing.
The prone position is unsuitable if you’re sunburned on the stomach, and it can place pressure on the neck, so it’s not sustainable in the long term. On the plus side, according to Sleep and Breathing, it’ll reduce the chances of snoring by 50%.
You’ll likely need to take additional steps to manage your sunburn at night to get a good night’s sleep. Before getting into bed and adopting this new position, consider treating your concern.
Take a Cold Shower
If you have a sunburn, applying ice to the impacted skin may seem like a quick fix for relieving the pain. In reality, this will intensify the problem. Ice will cause blood vessels to contract in the short term, but the skin is likely to break and bleed once they expand again.
Despite this, cooling off the skin will offer relief – and help you sleep, as lowering your body temperature is a critical component of gaining restful slumber. Apply a cold compress to the burned skin, or for a simpler solution, take a cold shower.
The concerns related to ice can also apply to showering at sub-zero temperatures. Start running lukewarm water and allow your body to adjust to this, then steadily reduce the temperature. You’ll feel more comfortable and ready to sleep when you exit the shower.
Apply Aloe Vera
No scientific study proves aloe vera protects us from the sun’s rays. The Journal of the Medical Association of Thailand explains how a 70% aloe product offers no benefits of this ilk.
Despite this, aloe vera is still considered the optimum treatment for sunburn. A big part of this is anecdotal evidence – many people feel considerably better after applying aloe vera to a sunburn.
This may be a placebo effect, but pure aloe also has hydrating and anti-inflammatory properties. To reiterate, to gain any benefit from aloe vera, you must purchase a pure product of 100% aloe.
Even better, use an aloe plant and break open the leaves, extracting the gel from within—store aloe in the refrigerator before application.
If the itching of your sunburn is driving you crazy, mix the aloe vera gel with a topical anesthetic.
Look for a hydrocortisone cream that contains pramoxine. A small amount mixed with aloe will calm the irritation of sunburn, at least in the short term.
Ordinarily, we would never recommend consuming liquids close to bedtime, as this will always lead to the risk of needing the bathroom at night. Sunburn on the back, shoulders, or legs leads to dehydration, which can cause insomnia.
A body lacking fluids will struggle to create melatonin, the hormone that encourages sleep. The side effects of dehydration can also keep you awake, including muscle cramps, headaches, and dry mouth.
Don’t drink a full 8oz glass of water at once if you are dehydrated through sunburn. Pour a glass of room-temperature water and steadily sip at it. Adding ice may taste refreshing, but it takes the body longer to process colder liquids.
You can create a tea that encourages sleep if sunburn keeps you awake. Bananas are linked with sleep, and Agricultural Sciences recommends an infusion of banana and romaine lettuce to help you doze off.
There’s no escaping the fact that sunburn hurts. You may need to take some pain relief if you’re going to doze off. This will not be a permanent remedy or assist with the healing of sunburn, but it may at least allow you to sleep and allow your body to repair.
Only take aspirin or ibuprofen. The anti-inflammatory components of these over-the-counter drugs will offer some immediate short-term relief, so utilize them at the end of a sleep hygiene cycle.
When Does Sunburn Stop Hurting?
Pain relief medication isn’t sustainable for managing sunburn in the long term, especially ibuprofen. If you grow reliant on NSAIDs, you risk damaging the internal organs. Painkillers should only be used on the first day of sunburn when the discomfort is most intense.
Sometimes, sunburn stops hurting after a single day, peaking after 24 hours before the pain dissipates. In other cases, it could be as long as three days before you feel relief. It depends on how severely you were burned and how you reacted to the incident. Scratching the skin will prolong the pain.
If you still suffer after three days of sunburn, consider speaking to a healthcare professional. This is especially important if you also feel dizzy and nauseous, as it suggests that you struggle with sunstroke, not just surface sunburn.
Sunburn can play havoc with a sleep schedule, but this can be managed. If you’re struggling with a sunburn, especially on delicate areas like the back and shoulders, avoid wearing a shirt in bed and allow the skin to breathe, as this will accelerate recovery.
Also, carefully remove sunscreen from your skin before going to bed.