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How to Sleep Easier When You Have a Sunburn

If you forgot to wear or reapply sunscreen and now your sleep is suffering, here is how you can rest easy as your sunburn heals.

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It’s hot, your skin is burnt, and now you can’t sleep. Of course you already know that you should be wearing sunscreen every time you go outside. But if you missed a spot or accidentally forgot to reapply (because it happens to the best of us), it can be quite painful. That pain doesn’t go away when you sleep, unfortunately, and sleeping with a sunburn can result in a lot of uncomfortable tossing and turning.

Allowing your skin to heal is key. Once you realize you’re burned, the first thing you should do is pop an over-the-counter painkiller, like Tylenol, and apply cold compresses, according to Dr. Orit Markowitz, director of skin cancer at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York. Calming down the body’s response and reducing the heat generated by the sunburn allows your body to leave room for the sunburn to heal.

Aloe is key to helping you sleep with sunburn.
Photo: Getty

Sleeping and leaving your skin alone—no scratching or constant fussing—will also help. “Sleep is the time for recovery and healing of injured tissue,” explains Martin Rawls-Meehan, CEO and co-founder of the sleep tech company Reverie. To speed up that recovery, aloe is Rawls-Meehan’s top choice. “Aloe is my favorite remedy—sunburn or not. It has amazing healing and soothing properties and will protect your skin from rubbing when your skin comes in contact with your sheets at night.”

Dr. Markowitz suggests going a step further: Refrigerate your aloe vera gel and mix it with benzocaine before covering the inflamed skin. If you’re not an aloe fan, she also recommends refrigerating over-the-counter hydrocortisone 1% cream mixed with pramoxine (an over-the-counter topical anesthetic). By refrigerating your topical products, you’ll help treat the inflammation in the skin.

In addition to applying topicals, what you wear and the materials you sleep on can help you rest easier when healing from a sunburn. Wearing loose-fitting clothing is the best for sleep (Rawls-Meehan suggests a light cotton T-shirt or woven cotton pajamas). Reminder from Dr. Markowitz: Don’t wear silk to bed after slathering on your aloe or hydrocortisone mix. The topical products will ruin silk clothing or sheets.

When it comes to your bedsheets, the key to staying comfortable may also help you get a better night’s sleep year-round. “Cooling sheets could help your sunburn,” Rawls-Meehan notes. “A breathable synthetic with cooling properties will help alleviate the soreness and inflammation you experience after a sunburn. Beyond helping relieve sunburn, cooling sheets maintain a lower surface body temperature, which helps you stay asleep.”

Dr. Markowitz is a fan of sheets made of natural fibers. Check out some of her (and our) favorite products to help you sleep well with a sunburn.

The Best Products to Help You Sleep with a Sunburn

Percale sheets will help you sleep well with a sunburn.

Matouk Bel Tempo Sheets | $198

“In general, sheets made of natural fibers such as cotton are more breathable, allowing for better temperature regulation through increased airflow by not trapping in heat,” says Dr. Markowitz. “Percale cotton is a blended cotton product I like for sheets because they feel cool and crisp against your body.”

Lavender-scented spray may help you sleep more deeply.

Solar Recover After Sun Moisturizing Spray | $28

If you want some extra, all-natural healing power, apply this spray to your burn before bed. In addition to vitamin E and calendula, it includes lavender oil, which may be the secret to your best night’s sleep. Research out of Wesleyan University found that sniffing lavender before lying down to sleep increases the amount of deep sleep for participants, while another study presented at the European Sleep Research Society discovered that the smell offered relief for insomnia sufferers.

Drunk Elephant's F Balm mask is great for overnight use.

Drunk Elephant F-Balm Electrolyte Waterfacial | $52

Dr. Markowitz is a fan of cult-favorite Drunk Elephant, and this is her pick to put on before bed. “I love it when products go to work while I sleep,” she says. “Other than its clever name, I like this overnight mask for its cooling and quenching properties. It’s also a vegan and cruelty-free product and 100% free of silicones, fragrance, and irritants.”

Mariage Freres Dream Tea

Mariage Fréres Dream Tea | $40

Sipping this tea before bed may do more than relax you—it may help calm the inflammation of a bad sunburn. “This tea is a favorite of mine for its composition of aromatic plants with relaxing and soothing properties,” says Dr. Markowitz. “It’s an antioxidant-rich red tea, and has my favorite added touch, licorice, which is known for its anti-inflammatory properties.”