Quality sleep, a key brain health factor, is easier when you’re cool. Learn many low and high-tech tips for keeping cool when the weather, or you, turn hot.
Getting enough sleep is always hard for the millions of adults who struggle with chronic insomnia.
But sleeping well when the weather outside, or in your body, is hot presents an additional challenge.
Let’s look at the steps you can take when you find yourself too hot to sleep.
When You Get Hot, It’s Harder to Sleep
In most areas of the world, summer brings heat and longer daylight hours.
And when it’s hot outside, you’re more likely to be hot at bedtime.
Because of the extra daylight, you may find yourself doing physical activities, eating, and drinking alcohol later than usual.
All of these make your body hotter.
Then there are health conditions that can turn up your internal heat.
Whether it’s the hot flashes of menopause, side effects of medication, hyperthyroidism, or excessive stress, you can become overheated enough that sleep comes hard.
The Ideal Temperature for Sleep
While everyone is different, the ideal sleeping temperature for most people is between 66° and 70°F (19° and 21°C).
Here’s why you sleep better when it’s cool.
Right before you fall asleep, many changes take place in your body.
Your brainwave patterns change, your heart and breathing rates slow, and your body temperature starts to drop.
This temperature change can help you fall and stay asleep.
" Research shows that moderate sleep deprivation can affect your mental performance as much as being legally drunk.
Also, you spend approximately 20-25% of the time you sleep in the “rapid eye movement” stage.
During this part of the sleep cycle, you lose some of your ability to thermoregulate, i.e., adjust your inner temperature to the surrounding air temperature.
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So when the room temperature is too warm, your body starts to heat up which can wake you and make it hard to get back to sleep.
And air conditioning is not always a big help.
You may wake feeling alternately too hot and then too cool as the AC cycles on and off.
Cool-Down Tips When You’re Too Hot to Sleep
There are three main concepts to remember in order to sleep better when you’re hot.
You want to keep your bedroom cool, keep your bed cool, and keep yourself cool.
Keeping Your Bedroom Cool
For many of us, attaining the relatively cool ideal bedroom temperature is unrealistic.
If you don’t have air conditioning, it’s not even possible.
But even if you do, keeping the temperature set this low would be energy-intensive and expensive.
This first set of tips is for those with central AC.
The rest of the tips in this article can be helpful for everyone.
If You Have Central Air Conditioning, Optimize It
If you have central AC, take good care of it.
This means getting it serviced every spring before the hottest months of the year.
Change the Filter
Change your air filter regularly.
According to my HVAC contractor, surprisingly few people actually do this.
A clogged, dirty filter will significantly decrease both the air flow and efficiency of your AC system.
Adjust the Air Vents
Adjust your vents to optimize air flow.
Don’t assume they are in the right position.
Your vents may be perfectly adjusted for winter, but not so great for summer.
Keep your bedroom vents fully open and close vents in rooms you rarely use.
Block Out the Sun
People who live in hot climates have done this for centuries.
Close windows and window treatments during the day to block the sun and keep your bedroom cool.
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If the sun hits your bedroom directly, invest in thermal window treatments — blinds, shades, or curtains.
In a pinch, you can use aluminum foil or a mylar emergency blanket.
Avoid Heat-Generating Electronics
Minimize heat-generating electronics in the bedroom.
Computers, televisions, laptops, and even light bulbs all add heat, making your bedroom hotter.
Switch from traditional incandescent bulbs to light emitting diode bulbs (LEDs).
A whopping 90% of incandescent bulb energy is given off as heat.
There really is something to the old adage that “it’s not the heat, it’s the humidity.”
Putting a dehumidifier in the bedroom can make you feel much more comfortable at the same temperature.
You can see on the chart below that an 80°F bedroom can feel like 91°F or 73°F depending on the humidity!
Get a Portable Air Conditioner
At one time, if you didn’t have central air conditioning, the next best option was to install a window air conditioner unit in your bedroom.
But these have some disadvantages.
They can be difficult to install, noisy, and don’t fit in all types of windows.
Portable air conditioners, on the other hand, are a snap to set up and easily moved from room to room.
Move Down or Out
There’s no rule that says you have to sleep in your bedroom.
Heat rises, so upstairs bedrooms can be the hottest rooms in the house.
Temporarily move to the ground floor or, better yet, the basement (if you have one).
You can also move your mattress to the floor.
This can be a few degrees cooler than sleeping with the mattress on the bed frame.
Sleep in a Hammock
If it’s too hot inside your house and not too buggy outside, consider backyard camping or sleeping in a hammock.
There’s a growing number of proponents of hammock sleeping and you can even set up one indoors.
The swaying of a hammock can help adults fall asleep faster and sleep more deeply by synchronizing brain waves.
If your schedule allows it, supplement your night’s sleep with an afternoon nap.
How to Keep Your Bed Cool
Now that you’ve done what you can to keep your bedroom cool, it’s time to address how to keep your bed cool.
Here’s some low-tech ways to make your bed feel cooler.
Do you remember waterbeds?
One of their drawbacks is that they pull heat away from you and need to be heated when the surrounding air is cool.
But this makes them perfect for those times when you’re hot.
Bed fans are an interesting way to cool your bed.
These units sit on the floor and blow a stream of air directly at the foot of your bed.
Don’t let your pets sleep with you; they generate a lot of heat.
They’ll be happier too if you provide a cooler place for them to sleep like their own dog bed on the floor.
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Get Out of Bed
If you wake in the middle of the night and it feels like someone microwaved your mattress, get out of bed.
Getting your hot body out of bed is sometimes the only way to give your bed a chance to cool down.
You can splash cold water on your face or stick your head in the fridge for a few minutes while waiting.
The typical pillow absorbs the heat from your head and radiates it back at you.
If you haven’t shopped for pillows lately, you may be surprised at the number of cooling pillow options.
There are natural cooling pillows such as those made with dried buckwheat hulls or bamboo.
Buckwheat pillows don’t heat up like standard pillows, but if you aren’t used to them you may find them a little too crunchy to be comfortable.
Some bamboo pillows are bamboo all the way through, while others have a bamboo cover.
There are numerous cooling pillows that contain cooling gel.
Some you have to fill with water like a mini-waterbed, while others have a gel layer embedded in memory foam.
It used to be that cotton sheets were the thing to stay cool.
Sheets made of bamboo can be cooler as well.
Cooling Mattress Toppers
There’s a wide range of cooling mattress toppers to choose from — copper-infused, gel-infused memory foam, ventilated memory foam, CoolMax, bamboo, and even wool.
The idea of sleeping on top of wool may sound hot but, in fact, wool has impressive temperature-regulating properties.
It can help you feel warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer.
A study done at the University of Sydney found that wool helps regulate sleep temperature and that sleeping on wool leads to better sleep.
A top-of-the-line mattress topper is the ChiliPAD Sleep System which circulates cooled or heated water to keep you comfortable all year.
This dual-zone pad lets you and your partner each choose your sleep temperature anywhere from a nippy 55°F to a toasty 115°F.
Two Questionable Ways to Cool Your Bed
One of the worst ways to keep cool is to put your sheets in the freezer.
You’d better be quick because by the time you’ve made your bed, the sheets will no longer be cool and you’ll be hotter.
The other bad idea is the “Egyptian method” of wrapping yourself in a wet sheet to stay cool.
This is a good way to grow mold on your mattress, especially if you live in a humid climate.
Ways to Keep Yourself Cool
There’s sometimes only so much you can do to keep your external environment cool.
Here’s how to keep yourself cool with some tips that go right to the source.
Avoid Evening Exercise
Avoid strenuous exercise in the evening as it will elevate your core body temperature.
Eat Light and Early
Digestion can raise your body temperature, so have a light dinner or eat earlier in the evening rather than closer to bedtime.
Use a Ceiling Fan
Use a ceiling fan if you have one.
The air movement won’t cool your room, but it will make you feel up to 8°F cooler.
Use a Portable Fan
If you get hot but your sleep partner doesn’t, put a small portable fan on your nightstand.
I have an old-fashioned hand fan that I use in a pinch to cool down silently (good if there’s a power outage too).
Keep It Light
Wear breathable lightweight sleepwear, or nothing at all!
Use Water Wisely to Keep Yourself Cool
When you want to stay cool, water is your best friend.
If you don’t have enough fluids to perspire, your core temperature will rise.
Use a Cooling Towel
Cooling towels are generally made of hyper-evaporative material that retains a lot of water while remaining dry to the touch.
They will help you stay cool for several hours.
Applying a cooling towel to your neck works amazingly well.
This low-tech cooling solution has a lot of great uses beyond the bedroom too.
Use it while exercising or for relief from hot flashes.
Keep Water by the Bed
Keep an insulated glass of ice-cold water by your bed.
Take a sip if you feel thirsty during the night.
You can also press the glass on your forehead for some instant heat relief.
Take a Tepid Shower
Take a tepid shower or bath before bed.
A hot shower will obviously make you feel hotter, but counterintuitively, so can a cold shower.
Taking a truly chilly shower can have a rebound effect as your body’s thermostat revs up to counteract the cold.
Use Manual AC
Place ice packs, frozen water bottles, or a pan of ice in front of a fan to create a cool, rather than hot, breeze.
This is how people used to cool down before air conditioning.
Keep a Damp Cloth Nearby
Keep a damp washcloth by your bed to dampen your wrists, face, or neck as needed.
Use Peppermint Oil
Keep a spray bottle of water with a few drops of peppermint essential oil at your bedside.
Spritz all over as needed to cool yourself down.
This is especially refreshing on hot feet.
Go to Bed Damp
Go to bed with slightly damp hair.
The continual evaporation will keep your head cool.
Why Your Brain Needs Sleep
Getting enough high-quality sleep is critical for brain health and function.
One night of poor sleep can affect your memory, concentration, coordination, mood, judgment, and ability to handle stress the following day.
Research shows that moderate sleep deprivation can affect your mental performance as much as being legally drunk.
Chronic insomnia is linked to a long list of diseases, including mental health disorders such as depression, anxiety disorders, dementia, and Alzheimer’s.
Inadequate sleep even disrupts your genes — just a single week of insufficient sleep can alter the activity of over 700 genes.
Too Hot to Sleep: Take the Next Step
Sleeping when you’re hot is challenging.
Fortunately, there’s a lot of ways to stay cool — both low and high-tech.
These range from old standbys like fans, natural fibers, and cold water to “new and improved” man-made materials like hyper-evaporative fibers and cooling gels.
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