Last Updated on September 30, 2023 by Louise Carter
Always remove your shirt at bedtime if you forget to apply suntan lotion and find your skin burned by the sun. The more night clothes worn, the more painful and prolonged the effects of the sunburn.
Sunburn involves UV rays penetrating the skin and damaging the cells, so we often blister and peel. Wearing a shirt will rub against and aggravate sunburn on the back, arms, and shoulders.
This is important at night when sleeping. The impact of sunburn isn’t immediate because it takes several hours to become apparent. This means the discomfort will likely peak as you prepare for bed.
There are various benefits to sleeping without clothes, which are magnified if you have sunburn. A shirt, especially a tight-fitting one, will irritate burned skin.
Sleep is vital to healing sunburn because it allows the body to heal. Relieve any immediate pain, adjust your sleeping position, and remove your shirt to expedite recovery.
Why Do Sunburns Get Worse at Night?
While sunburn is a consequence of UV exposure during the day, most of us only experience the full impact at night because the effects of sunburn aren’t immediate.
It can take up to 4 hours to experience the discomfort and inflammation associated with sunburn.
Consider your posture and activity at night compared to the day. While spending time outside in daylight hours, we assume that heat sensations on the skin are due to direct sunlight.
You’ll likely wear swimwear if it’s hot enough outside to burn the skin. When the night arrives and introduces a chilly breeze, you may wear a shirt, which rubs and aggravates your burned skin.
Is it Better To Sleep Without A Shirt When Sunburned?
Stay out of direct sunlight and remove as many clothes as possible if you have sunburn. At the very least, don’t 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 heal while you sleep, so removing your shirt will assist this process.
Any clothing, even if it’s loose fitting, will also rub against your burned skin. As the skin becomes increasingly delicate when burned, friction will cause significant discomfort.
Sleeping unclothed is ideal if you have sunburn, as it allows sun-damaged skin to recover. Wear the lightest and loosest-fitting night clothes possible. A silk nightshirt is preferable to cotton pajamas.
As well as removing clothing before bed, consider taking covers off the bed. Sleeping without blankets also has benefits. You reduce the risk of prolonged pain by stripping away this extra layer.
What To Do if You Can’t Sleep Because of Sunburn
Sunburn can be exhausting because the body needs to rehydrate and repair damaged skin cells.
You may need to adjust your sleeping position if you have sunburn, especially on the back, shoulders, or back of the legs. Soreness on the skin will make the supine sleeping position uncomfortable.
Arguably, the best sleeping position with sunburn is the prone position. This involves 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.
You can take further steps to reduce discomfort from sunburn:
Applying ice to the impacted skin may seem like a quick fix if you have a sunburn.
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 open and bleed once it expands again.
Despite this, cooling off the skin will offer relief. Apply a cold compress to the burned skin, or for a simpler solution, take a cool shower.
The concerns related to ice can also apply to showering at sub-zero temperatures. Start running lukewarm water, giving the body time to adjust. Then, steadily reduce the temperature.
No scientific study proves aloe vera protects the skin from UV rays. The Journal of the Medical Association of Thailand explains how a 70% aloe product offers no sun-protective benefits.
Despite this, aloe vera is still considered a good treatment for sunburn. Much of this is anecdotal evidence, as many people feel better after applying aloe vera to a sunburn.
This may be a placebo effect, but pure aloe has hydrating and anti-inflammatory properties. To reiterate, you need 100% aloe vera to benefit.
You can use an aloe plant and break open the leaves, extracting the gel. If the itching from the sunburn is driving you crazy, mix the aloe vera gel with a topical anesthetic.
Use a hydrocortisone cream that contains pramoxine. A small amount of hydrocortisone cream mixed with aloe will calm sunburn irritation in the short term.
Sunburn on the back, chest, arms, shoulders, or legs leads to dehydration, which can cause insomnia.
A body lacking fluids will struggle to create melatonin, the sleep hormone. The side effects of dehydration can keep you awake, including muscle cramps, headaches, and dry mouth.
Don’t drink a full 8 oz glass of water if you’re 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.
There’s no escaping the fact that sunburn hurts.
You may need some pain relief if you’re going to doze off. This won’t be a permanent remedy or assist with the healing of sunburn, but it may allow you to sleep while allowing the body to repair.
Only take aspirin or ibuprofen. The anti-inflammatory components will offer some short-term relief.
When Does Sunburn Stop Hurting?
Pain relief medication like ibuprofen isn’t sustainable for long-term usage. If you grow reliant on NSAIDs, you risk damaging your internal organs.
Painkillers should only be taken 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 take up to 3 days to enjoy relief. It depends on how severely you were burned and how you reacted to the incident. Scratching the skin will prolong the discomfort.
If you feel bad 3+ days after getting sunburnt, consult a doctor. This is especially important if you also feel dizzy and nauseous, as it suggests you have sunstroke, not just sunburn.
Sunburn can play havoc with our sleep schedule, but this can be managed.
If you have sunburn, especially on delicate areas like the back and shoulders, avoid wearing a shirt in bed and allow the skin to breathe to accelerate recovery.
Also, carefully remove sunscreen from your skin before going to bed to avoid other issues.