Sleep Well//

What to Do When You’re Too Hot or Cold to Sleep

When you can’t get the temperature right, it can be harder to fall asleep and stay that way. Here are essential tips for better zzz’s.

Africa Studio/Shutterstock
Africa Studio/Shutterstock

Welcome to Sleep Dilemmas, Solved, our column addressing common conundrums about sleep. Here, Shelly Ibach, Thrive Global’s Sleep Editor-at-Large and President & CEO of Sleep Number, consults with other top sleep experts for the best tips on how to upgrade your sleep, and thus, your overall well-being. 

As we continue to face ambiguity during these difficult and often stressful times, there’s one thing we can all do to make a difference: get quality sleep. Restful sleep can support us in every aspect of life. It helps us to stay calm and clear; it can lower our anxiety levels and increase our energy. Science shows that without deep, consistent rest, we are simply unable to function at our best. Right now, quality sleep is non-negotiable in order to stay healthy. As I know many of you have experienced, getting the recommended seven to nine hours of quality shut-eye and staying comfortable throughout the night is not always as simple as it sounds.

If you are struggling with being too hot or too cold during the night, you’re not alone. The temperature of your bedroom and how hot or cold you feel in your bed are key factors influencing the overall comfort and quality of your sleep. It is important to make sure your night of zzz’s is not being disrupted by temperature so you wake up refreshed. It’s all about individualized sleep, having the right bed, bedding and overall environment that is conducive to quality shuteye, a subject that as many of you know, is especially close to my heart. 

Our research at Sleep Number has found that 83% of people struggle with being too hot or too cold. It is even more tricky if you’re sharing a bed with your partner. One sleeper might be restlessly throwing off the covers and sweating, while the other is cold and cocooning for warmth. Now let’s get into additional facts and solutions. 

Temperature changes are a natural process of the body preparing for sleep. Eti Ben Simon, Ph.D., a neuroscientist at U.C. Berkeley’s Center for Human Sleep Science, says that “one of the physical changes that occurs when we are ready to fall asleep is an orchestrated drop in our core body temperature. From a typical temperature of 98.6 Fahrenheit, the body is cooled down by about two degrees to initiate sleep.” That’s why sleeping in a room that’s cool helps the process of cooling the body down, as it’s easier to lose more body heat if the room is not already hot. Interestingly, she says, “studies also point out the importance of fresh air in improving sleep quality. In a study from 2015, lower levels of CO2 in the bedroom led to better sleep and improved performance the next day.” 

The ​science​ on the subject shows that keeping your sleeping environment cool is best (and it doesn’t mean sacrificing that wonderful feeling of snug, cozy security). Most experts agree that your bedroom should be between 65 to 68 degrees Fahrenheit in order to sleep comfortably all night long. According to our research, ​SleepIQ® sleepers who describe their body temperature as cool at night are the most rested overall. ​Sleeping in what amounts to a “sauna” isn’t good for our health. In fact, ​studies​ have found that if the temperature in your bedroom is too high at night, you could well have elevated levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) the following morning.

Also weighing in on the topic, Dr. Chris Winter, M.D., Director of the Charlottesville Neurology and Sleep Medicine Center, notes that most of the time these days we control our climate artificially — with heating and air conditioning. That can make it tempting to heat or cool the room to extreme levels — which isn’t recommended. “The brain is unable to rapidly update your core body temperature during sleep,” Simon says, so these sudden shifts from cold to hot (and vice versa) should be avoided.

Fortunately, beds and bedding “which actively cool the bed while you sleep can make a big impact on one’s sleep quality,” Dr. Winter says.

Take our new Sleep Number 360 i10 ​smart bed​, for instance. With advanced technology and a revolutionary breathable sleep surface, it balances the temperature to keep you cool and comfortable all night, on each side. Plus, it was designed to closely contour to the body, conforming to each sleeper, maintaining support and spinal alignment, while moving with you for increased pressure relief and reduced motion transfer. It creates a wonderful sleep experience. 

There are other great options to consider too, like Sleep Number’s  DualTemp™ layer, an innovation we developed to use with any bed and for one or both sides of the bed. It enables you to sleep up to 35% cooler or warmer. With six different adjustments for heating and cooling, the active air is soothing and comforting. Another option: our temperature balancing sheets​, which will absorb the heat your body throws off when your body temperature drops, so you don’t wake up from the heat. I used to wake up, around 3 in the morning. I would throw my covers off then struggle to get back to sleep. Our DualTemp™​ layer was life-changing — now I sleep comfortably throughout the night. 

Whatever you are sleeping on, remember that your environment needs to be relatively cool all year long. So pay attention to your thermostat and during the height of summer, you may want to use a fan in your bedroom. Another tip: Try a hot bath or shower before bed, which I know​ sounds counterintuitive, but it will actually lower your internal body temperature and help you fall asleep more easily.​ Wearing breathable fabrics to bed is also a good idea. 

Staying comfortably cool in bed is important for all of us. It’s particularly supportive at different life stages. For women going through hormonal changes, like pregnancy, perimenopause, or menopause​, it can be an extra challenge to stay cool. We hear from many women in these transitions that the dual temperature layer makes the difference between getting a good night’s sleep and waking up tossing and turning. 

At the end of each day, when we all look forward to closing our eyes and drifting off peacefully, the topic of temperature boils down to individuality. We are all unique with our own diverse needs, and that’s the beauty of human beings. In my view, individuality is as relevant to sleep as it is to every area of life and well-being. Our bodies require different conditions. Yes, it’s important to stay cool, but there are still subtle differences in preference that are meaningful.

When it comes to couples, these differences can result in conflict that begins with a battle for control of the thermostat. There are those who suggest “a sleep divorce” — where partners spend the nights (or some nights) in separate rooms. I’m outspoken in my views against this. Why choose a sleep divorce when there’s a much better option? An individualized sleep experience has always been part of our mission at Sleep Number, and I believe it enhances the quality of your rest, and your romantic relationships. Isn’t it better to know that you can adjust the temperature of your bed (or try some of the other solutions mentioned here) rather than forfeiting intimacy?

Investing in sleep is clearly an investment in your relationships — whether it’s the one you have with yourself or with a partner. We all deserve to be our best selves, living life to the full. So, here’s to cool, cozy, comfortable nights and joyful, energetic, fulfilling days.

Sleep well, dream big,

Shelly

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