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How to Sleep Comfortably With Sunburn (13 Ways)

Dr Babar Naeem
  • This article was written by Dr. Babar Naeem (MBBS, MRCPCH) to ensure maximum factual accuracy and unique content.

I’ve recently been outside a lot due to the nicer weather and found myself with sunburn.

Sunburn tends to feel worse at night after a day in the sun because although the burns can show up in less than 30 minutes, it can take several hours for the burns to develop fully – plus contact with the bedsheets can increase the level of discomfort even more at night.

So how do you get to sleep when you have sunburn?

The most effective way to sleep more comfortably with sunburn is to take paracetamol, aspirin, or ibuprofen to lessen the pain. Applying aloe vera gel, hydrocortisone cream, or home remedies to the burns can further reduce discomfort. Avoid directly putting ice on the burnt skin.

But how long will it be before the sunburn goes away and your skin returns to normal?

Whilst sunburn may not go away completely overnight, moisturizing the burns, drinking more water to improve hydration, staying out of the sun, sleeping in nonabrasive bedsheets/bedclothes (like mulberry silk), and avoiding irritants like soap can help the sunburn heal within 3 days.

In the rest of this article, I have used my professional knowledge as a practicing medical doctor to provide you with 13 actionable strategies to help you get to sleep when you have sunburn.

But as always, you should consult with your own doctor to get the best possible advice for your condition.

Related: try these 31 techniques to help you sleep cooler in a hot and stuffy room.

13 Ways to Sleep Better With Sunburn

Here are 13 effective methods that you can apply now to help you sleep better when you have sunburn:

1: Control Pain With Paracetamol, Aspirin, or Ibuprofen

The most effective way to alleviate the pain and discomfort associated with your sunburn is to take over-the-counter (OTC) pain medications like paracetamol, aspirin, or ibuprofen.

More specifically, sleep disturbance and discomfort in victims of sunburn are due to symptoms like pain, redness, and swelling.

These symptoms can be managed with the use of analgesic and anti-inflammatory medications like paracetamol, ibuprofen, or aspirin.[1]

These formulations are available as gel, cream, paste, or oral forms.

Although these medications are generally safe, medical consultation should be sought before using these medications, as incorrect dose or frequency can produce undesirable side effects.

Concerns were raised about the worsening of the COVID-19 disease with ibuprofen but the research didn’t show any such association. [3]

Apply Crushed Aspirin to Avoid Systemic Side Effects

Another method that can be tried is the application of crushed aspirin on the affected area.

This method will deliver the medicine to the affected area and prevent systemic side effects.

To use this follow these steps:

  • Crush a tablet with a spoon or any other hard surface until it is converted into a powder form.
  • Add water to the powder to make a paste.
  • Spread this paste over the affected area.
  • Leave this on the skin for 10 to 15 minutes.
  • Rinse the paste off with warm water.
  • Use this procedure twice or thrice a day.

I usually recommend that my patients use topical formulations for mild pain or discomfort, but if symptoms are not controlled, oral or injectable medications can be prescribed.

2: Drink More Water to Decrease Fatigue

Drinking more water is necessary to prevent dehydration and shock in victims of sunburn – so increasing your fluid intake can help to reduce the feelings of lethargy and brain fog that often arise after having spent too much time under the sun.

When the body is exposed to sunlight, an increased amount of water is lost through the skin to prevent the damage caused by the heat.

If this lost water is not replaced with increased intake, it can result in dehydration.

It is always recommended to be aware of the signs and symptoms of dehydration, that are:

  • Dry mouth.
  • Fatigue.
  • Decrease urine output.
  • Hyperthermia or fever.
  • Feeling thirsty.

The NHS advises seeking immediate medical attention if you develop signs and symptoms of severe dehydration like lethargy, confusion, extreme thirst, no urine output for eight hours, palpitations, or dizziness.

 Drink Extra Water During the Day

To replace the water that has been lost by sunburn as well as to prevent dehydration, I always advise my patients to drink plenty of water during the day.

You can also drink other fluids like fruit juice, squash, etc.

Some fruits like watermelon can also provide similar benefits.

Keep a Glass of Water at the Bedside

Sleep increases the chance of dehydration and sunburn makes it even worse.

Dryness caused by dehydration results in itching which causes troubled sleep.

Drinking water before going to sleep – as well as keeping the water to drink at night – is the best remedy.

If you have to get up at night to pee, this is a reliable sign that your body is well hydrated.

3: Apply Aloe Vera Gel to Soothe Discomfort and Dryness

The application of aloe vera moisturizes the skin and alleviates the dryness and discomfort associated with sunburn.

Aloe vera is a plant that can provide amazing benefits to our body.

It is used in a variety of skin products and has been shown to reduce wrinkles and delay aging.

It also has anti-inflammatory properties that reduce the pain and swelling associated with sunburn [4,5].

Discomfort associated with sunburn is mostly due to dryness and itchiness that worsen during the night.

Aloe vera is one of the most effective home remedies for the treatment of sunburn and it acts by providing moisture to the skin.

It is also loaded with vitamin A, E, and water that relieves painful swelling in victims of sunburn.

It can be applied directly from the plant or you can use a lotion.

A study done in Thailand has reported that the use of aloe vera gel healed burnt skin 9 days earlier than the control group [5].

Apply Extract from Aloe Vera Leaves on the Area Affected by Sunburn

Aloe vera belongs to a family of cactus plants that are easily available in many countries.

Its leaves are filled with a gel-like extract that is very helpful to relieve the pain and discomfort associated with sunburn.

To do this follow these steps:

  • Take a leaf from the aloe vera plant.
  • Cut the sides of the leaf and remove the yellowish fluids.
  • Squeeze out the gel from the leaf as much as possible.
  • Keep the gel in the fridge.
  • Take a shower before applying aloe vera gel.
  • Apply the gel on the affected area at the night.
  • Wait for 30-60 minutes before going to bed so that the skin can absorb the gel.

Use Aloe Vera Ice Cubes

Another innovative and effective use of aloe vera gel is to fill an ice-cube tray with the aloe gel and keep it in the freezer until the gel sets.

Once cubes are formed, rub them directly over the burnt area.

This will not only moisturize the skin but also alleviate the pain and swelling associated with the sunburn.

Buy 100% Pure Aloe Vera Gel from the Store

If you don’t have access to the aloe vera plant – or want to avoid the hassle associated with using natural organic extract – then you can purchase aloe vera gel from the market.

Always ensure that it is 100% pure and does not contain alcohol or other substances that can irritate the skin.

It is a good idea to chill the gel before applying.

4: Try Home Remedies for Natural Pain Relief

The most effective home remedy that helps you to sleep better by relieving the pain and itching from sunburn is aloe vera gel.

However, many other items are easily available that can be used to alleviate the discomfort and allows you to sleep comfortably if you don’t want to use aloe vera.

Some of these are discussed below:

Apply Coconut Oil

Coconut oil provides moisture and a soothing effect to the burnt area.

It also speeds up the healing process of burnt skin. [8]

It is used to treat many skin diseases as well as for cooking purposes.

It contains a high amount of saturated fats that are very good for moisturizing the skin.

Some experts believe that coconut oil provides a soothing effect to the affected area and helps with sleep.

However, limited data exist in the literature to support this claim.

A few important points should be remembered while using coconut oil to remedy sunburn:

  • Do not use it on the face as it can cause acne.
  • Coconut oil should only be used after the resolution of the blisters.
  • Initially, coconut oil should be applied to healthy skin to check for any unwanted side effects.

Try Vinegar

Vinegar has antiseptic properties and helps fight the harmful bacteria that can cause infection in the burn area.

It also reduces pain and inflammation and helps you sleep better.

To do this, take a cup of vinegar in bath water and keep it for 10-15 minutes.

Then soak a washcloth into the water and apply it over the burnt area.

Apply Baking Soda

Baking soda has a higher pH than the pH of the skin and improves the quality of the skin by balancing out the lower pH of the skin.

Heal Your Skin With Raw Honey

Raw honey has antiseptic and soothing properties (especially manuka honey).

It can be applied to the affected area as a thin layer that will help you sleep better.

Honey should not be used for children younger than 1 year of age as accidental ingestion of honey can result in the development of paralysis. [6]

Cooling Black Teabag Compress

Black tea contains tannic acid that provides a cooling effect on the sunburnt area.

Soak a washcloth in brewed tea and then place this on the burn area before going to bed.

This will remove the painful sensation and heat from that area and will help you sleep better.

Use a Cold Compress

Cold compresses have a soothing effect and provide relief to the pain and itching. [7]

But do NOT apply ice directly on the burnt area as it may exacerbate the damage to the skin and underlying tissue by suppressing the healing process.

To do this, wrap ice cubes in a cloth or towel and gently apply them to the affected area.

Another option is to soak a cloth or a towel in cold water and then use it for a cold compress.

Compresses should be applied intermittently as placing a cold cloth for too long can damage your skin.

It will absorb heat from the affected area and relieves inflammation by constricting blood vessels.

5: Reduce Pain and Itching With Hydrocortisone Cream

The application of hydrocortisone cream on the affected areas of the body can help you sleep better by providing relief from pain and itching. [9]

Steroids are used to treat a variety of disorders like joint pain, swelling, kidney disease, and autoimmune disorders.

The body also produces its steroids in the form of cortisol to handle stressful situations.

Hydrocortisone is one of the low potency steroids that is available in different forms like cream, lotions, sprays, ointment, and injections.

Hydrocortisone relieves pain, redness, itching, and discomfort associated with sunburn.

Oral or intravenous use of steroids can produce many side effects so I usually recommend that my patients use a topical treatment with 1% hydrocortisone to manage the symptoms caused by sunburn.

6: Modify Your Sleeping Position to Reduce Abrasive Pain

Maximum care should be taken to avoid sleeping directly on the sunburned area.

The area affected by sunburn is very painful and this is exaggerated by any friction or irritation.

Even sleeping on a soft bed sheet can feel very uncomfortable on a burnt area.

So to get a good sleep, the best advice is to avoid any pressure or irritation on the affected area by altering your sleeping position as follows:

  • If you have a burn on your chest you should sleep on your back or either side.
  • If the back is affected by the burn then you can sleep on the left or right side. You can also try sleeping on your front if it doesn’t cause you any lower back pain or discomfort.
  • If sunburn has affected your neck then the position should be adjusted in such a way that there is no direct contact between the burnt area and the bed.  
  • You should always experiment to discover what works best for you as different people feel comfortable in different positions.

7: Optimize Your Sleepwear and Bed Sheets

The worst thing you can do after getting sunburn is to wear a tight sleeping dress that increases the irritation and makes the pain worse – tight clothing made of nylon or polyester is not recommended.

If your dress doesn’t provide proper ventilation to the affected skin, itching and discomfort will increase.

Therefore, in my professional opinion, loose-fitting, lightweight, and breathable natural fabrics like cotton are the best clothes to wear to increase the likelihood of a more comfortable night’s sleep when you have sunburn.

Such dressings will provide minimal friction and enhance the cooling effect.

Use Silk or Cotton Sheets

A breathable bed sheet with cooling properties is the ideal option to help you stay asleep.

Optimizing your bed sheet is also necessary to get a comfortable sleep after getting a sunburn.

Silk sheets are very smooth and have a soft texture.

It doesn’t irritate or aggravate the pain while sleeping and helps you sleep better.

Another recommendation is to use breathable cotton sheets along with similar clothing to minimize discomfort while sleeping.

Click here to see the best cooling bed sheets to buy now.

8: Moisturize Your Skin to Speed Up Healing

The application of moisturizer helps relieves the discomfort and speed up the healing process of the skin. [7]

Sunburn causes most of the damage by drying out the water from the skin and causing dehydration.

This dehydration and dryness cause pain, itching, and difficulty sleeping.

So, a good strategy to manage sunburn is to layer the affected area with a moisturizer.

I usually advise my patients to avoid soap, shaving, and other irritants on the affected areas.

I recommend using alcohol-free moisturizer creams, ointments, or sprays.

Moisturizers should be applied throughout the day to ensure proper hydration and hydration of the skin.

9: Create a Cool Sleeping Environment to Trigger Sleep

A cool sleeping environment helps you sleep better and is especially useful if you have sunburn – aim for a room temperature of 65 degrees Fahrenheit (18.3 degrees Celsius) or lower.

You can achieve a low bedroom temperature by turning on the A.C before going to bed.

You can also use a special mattress, or use cooling sheets to help you sleep better.

As a warmer sleeper, I personally found that the DreamCloud mattress helped me sleep the coolest out of all the mattresses I’ve tested so far.

Click here to read my DreamCloud mattress review.

10: Take a Cool Shower to Soothe Your Skin

Taking a cool shower before going to bed will cool the skin and relieve the pain resulting from dryness and itching.

Hot baths are not recommended as they can make the burnt area worse.

For additional benefits, a moisturizer cream or ointment can be used after taking a bath.

11: Protect Your Burnt Skin From Further Damage

The first thing that should be done before even starting treatment is to not make the sunburn worse.

So every effort should be made to avoid exposing the damaged area to the sun again until you are fully healed.

But if you have to go outside, then you should keep in mind the following important points:

  • Wear a hat or use an umbrella.
  • Stay hydrated.
  • Apply sunblock – especially on the affected area.
  • Avoid staying outside for too long.

Do Not Peel Off Your Blisters

Another thing that must be avoided is peeling off the blisters.

They should be left intact as they promote the healing of the underlying skin.

However, if blisters are causing discomfort they can be drained with a sterilized needle. [7]

12: Avoid Irritating Your Skin With Soap and Anesthetics

Soap, perfumes, and some topical anesthetics can make your skin dry and increase irritation.

This will make it more difficult to sleep with sunburn.

Avoid Soap

Soap causes dryness by removing the moisture from the skin.

So it is a good idea to stay away from soap or detergents until your skin is healed.

If you feel that you must clean your skin then you should use gentle skin cleansers.

Stay Away from Lidocaine and Benzocaine

I usually recommend that my patients avoid anything that ends with ‘caine’ like benzocaine, lidocaine, etc. – they are usually present in topical pain relievers and should be avoided.

13: Talk to Your Doctor if Symptoms Persist or Worsen

Although I have provided a detailed list of instructions to help ease your pain and discomfort associated with sunburn and to help you sleep better, you should always consult a doctor or a dermatologist if you develop any of the following warning signs:

  • Blistering is present in the burnt area or surrounding skin.
  • The pain is very severe.
  • Pain is associated with high-grade fever or nausea.
  • If you are already taking medication like antibiotics, antifungals, contraceptives, or other medications that increase the sensitivity of your skin.
  • If you are feeling drowsy or become unconscious.

Conclusion: Try Multiple Techniques

To sleep better with sunburn, try combining strategies from the above list.

For example, taking a pain reliever, having a cool shower, and then applying aloe vera gel or hydrocortisone cream to the burned areas is an effective multi-pronged approach for sleeping better with sunburn.

Up next: 9 ways to sleep better with your partner.


Sources and References

[1] Guerra KC, Urban K, Crane JS. Sunburn. [Updated 2020 Nov 20]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2021 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK534837/

[2] Dehydration and sunburn the big dangers as temperatures forecast to top 30 degrees—July 19, 2016- available at https://www.blackburnwithdarwenccg.nhs.uk/dehydration-sunburn-big-dangers-temperatures-forecast-top-30-degrees/

[3] Moore, N., Carleton, B., Blin, P., Bosco-Levy, P., & Droz, C. (2020). Does Ibuprofen Worsen COVID-19?. Drug safety, 43(7), 611–614. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40264-020-00953-04

[4] Surjushe, A., Vasani, R., & Saple, D. G. (2008). Aloe vera: a short review. Indian journal of dermatology, 53(4), 163–166. https://doi.org/10.4103/0019-5154.44785

[5] Maenthaisong, R., Chaiyakunapruk, N., Niruntraporn, S., & Kongkaew, C. (2007). The efficacy of aloe vera used for burn wound healing: a systematic review. Burns : journal of the International Society for Burn Injuries, 33(6), 713–718. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.burns.2006.10.384

[6] Burlando, B., & Cornara, L. (2013). Honey in dermatology and skincare: a review. Journal of cosmetic dermatology, 12(4), 306–313. https://doi.org/10.1111/jocd.12058

[7] How to Treat Sunburn – American Academy of dermatology association-accessed 28-06-2021 available at https://www.aad.org/public/everyday-care/injured-skin/burns/treat-sunburn

[8] Srivastava, P., & Durgaprasad, S. (2008). Burn wound healing property of Cocos nucifera: An appraisal. Indian journal of pharmacology, 40(4), 144–146. https://doi.org/10.4103/0253-7613.43159

[9] Venet, F., Plassais, J., Textoris, J., Cazalis, M. A., Pachot, A., Bertin-Maghit, M., Magnin, C., Rimmelé, T., Monneret, G., & Tissot, S. (2015). Low-dose hydrocortisone reduces norepinephrine duration in severe burn patients: a randomized clinical trial. Critical care (London, England), 19(1), 21. https://doi.org/10.1186/s13054-015-0740-0

[10] Liu, J., & Zhang, W. (2015). The influence of the environment and clothing on human exposure to ultraviolet light. PloS one, 10(4), e0124758. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0124758

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