Tossing and turning? Why hot weather disrupts sleep, 6 ways to stay cool

Woman in front of fan on hot night

As I write this it’s 100 degrees F in the shade on my deck. I have central air conditioning but even so, my bedroom feels like a toaster oven. Sleep in these conditions is restless, at best. I decided to find some ways to cool myself in situ without taking out a 3rd mortgage to pay a high air conditioning bill.

Why is it so difficult to sleep when it’s “warm”?

When it’s too warm, you wake up more often and spend less time in deep sleep and REM sleep. It’s as if your brain is too preoccupied with regulating your body temperature to fully relax into sleep. Rather than relaxing, your body is busy working while you’re sleeping. The Sleep Foundation describes what during the deep and REM stages.

  • REM sleep is critical for cognitive functions such as memory consolidation, learning, and emotional regulation. It is during this stage that the brain processes and integrates information from the day.
  • During deep sleep, the body is in a state of recovery. This stage is crucial for physical restoration, including tissue repair, muscle growth, and bone strengthening. The immune system is also reinforced during this time.

If you don’t get adequate deep and/or REM sleep, you are not going to maintain good mental and physical health.

The body’s ability to regulate temperature is key.

Temperature regulation is a key component of good sleep hygiene: we sleep better when we’re cooler. Your body temperature naturally starts to fall as bedtime approaches; it can be 1 to 2 degrees lower when you’re sleeping than the daytime norm of 98.6 degrees F. It starts to rise again toward morning, preparing your body to wake.

That’s why most people tend to sleep better in a cooler room. Room temperature between 64-72 degrees F. is ideal. This temperature range supports your body’s natural cooling process, making it easier to fall asleep and stay asleep.

Nighttime heat is a particular problem because there’s no respite from daytime temperatures. This continuous exposure to heat disrupts sleep patterns and even poses health risks, especially during heat waves. Urban areas often have it worse due to the “heat island” effect, where cities retain more heat than surrounding areas.

Heat affects us more as we age

It’s worth noting that temperature sensitivity can vary among individuals. Factors like age and gender can play a role, with older adults like us being more susceptible to temperature extremes. As we age, our ability to regulate body temperature diminishes. Older adults produce less sweat and have poorer circulation, making it harder for their bodies to cool down effectively. This can lead to higher core body temperatures, which disrupts sleep.

If you can’t control your room temperature perfectly, don’t worry. You can adjust your bedding and sleepwear to create a more comfortable sleep environment. It’s about creating your own personal comfort zone.

Tips to help you cool down at night

The key to being able to fall and stay asleep during a heatwave is to cool your body’s internal temperature. A fan can help, but if your room is hot and it’s hot outside, the fan is only going to push hot air around. You’ll need to employ some creative methods to cool down.

1. A warm bedtime bath can help you cool down and sleep better

Research suggests a warm bath or shower an hour or two before bedtime can help you unwind and fall asleep faster. Why? Your core body temperature needs to drop by about 2 to 3 degrees F. to initiate good sleep and then maintain deep sleep. A warm shower tricks your body by bringing all the blood to the surface. The heat is drawn out of the core of your body to the surface of your body to dissipate.

Make your room environment as cool as possible

If you have air conditioning, aim to cool your room to between 68 and 74 degrees F. If you only have a fan, place a bowl of ice cubes in front of it. The breeze will slowly waft over the melting ice, generating a cooling mist. Or get an evaporative cooling fan, a device that cools air by producing a soft mist that cools the space around it. They come in assorted sizes. I’ve used the Arctic Air Tower Evaporative Cooler for several years. It has made such a difference in room temperature that I had to share it with you.

Protect yourself from sunburns

The ocean’s refreshing breeze can make a hot day bearable. But sunburn makes it hard for your body to cool down. Use an umbrella with UV protection and wear a sun-protective cover up to keep your skin cool at night.

4. Turn your bed into an island of cool

Bedding made from breathable fabrics like cotton and linen can help keep your body cool. Look for features like moisture-wicking properties and active-particle technology that absorbs and redistributes excess heat away from your body. You can also use the “Egyptian method,” also known as the Brooklyn method for some of us: spray your sheets with a mist of water so they are damp, but not wet before you go to bed. You’ll wake up in a dry bed, feeling cool and refreshed.

5. Wear cooling sleepwear

 Good sleep requires thermoregulation, cooling and warming the body depending on the person’s climate. Textiles that help control moisture can help the body regulate its temperature, especially in summer. The American Association of Textile Chemists and Colorists notes that fabric makers are developing innovative textiles and technologies that apply thermoregulating to cool the body when it is warm. To ensure comfortable sleep during hot weather, selecting the right breathable fabrics for sleepwear is crucial.

6. Hydrate

Water is essential for the body’s thermoregulation process. Adequate hydration enables the body to produce sweat, which is the primary mechanism for cooling down. Proper hydration also ensures efficient blood circulation, which helps distribute heat throughout the body and allows for better cooling through the skin. Drink plenty of water throughout the day and keep a glass of chilled water by your bedside to sip during the night if you feel warm.

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