Too Hot to Sleep? Lots of Cooling Tips Here

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Last updated April 3, 2023.
Edited and medically reviewed by Patrick Alban, DC. Written by Deane Alban.

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 you’re 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 to disrupt your sleep.

The Ideal Temperature for Sleep

While everyone is different, the ideal sleeping temperature for most people is between 60° and 67°F (15° and 19°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, ie, to 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 off and on.

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 the AC 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 an AC system.

Adjust the Air Vents

Adjust the AC 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.

Position the vents so that cold air isn’t blowing directly on you when you sleep.

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 taped to the window.

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. 

Dehumidify

There really is something to the old adage that “it’s not the heat, it’s the humidity.”

Using a dehumidifier in the bedroom can make you feel much more comfortable, even at a higher 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!

heat index chart
It’s not just the heat, it’s the humidity. (Chart courtesy of Dentec Safety Specialists)

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.

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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 when it’s hot.

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 bedroom 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 are some low-tech ways to make your bed feel cooler.

Waterbeds

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

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.

No Pets

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.

Given the choice, they might prefer to sleep on a cool tile floor than in bed with you anyway. 

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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.

Cooling Pillows

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.

Cooling Sheets

It used to be that cotton sheets were the best kind for staying cool.

But now there are cooling sheets including those made from CoolMax, a fiber scientifically designed to pull moisture away from you and evaporate it quickly to cool you down.

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 sleepme Cube Sleep System which circulates cooled or heated water to keep you comfortable all year.

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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 can 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 (it’s 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.

Applying a cooling towel to your neck works amazingly well and can help you stay cool for several hours.

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. 

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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 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 one way that 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.

It’s during sleep that the brain repairs itselfwashes away metabolic debriscreates new brains cells, and consolidates memories

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. 

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