It’s 3 am, and you just woke up sweating. Again.
From here, you know how the rest of the night’s going to progress. You’ll constantly toss and turn over the next couple hours, trying to find a position that’s both comfortable and allows for plenty of airflow.
Eventually, you’ll end up staring at your phone until the alarm goes off, signaling yet another day you’ll be forced to perform at your peak with far too little sleep.
Are you doomed to repeat this cycle for years to come? Or, are there effective methods of reducing heat while you sleep—and improving your overall quality of life?
Here, we’ll help you learn more about excessive heat during sleep: What causes it? Should you speak with your doctor? What are some effective methods for finding relief? What do professionals recommend?
Let’s start with the basics.
The Importance of Sleep
Sleep is a vast topic—one we certainly can’t cover fully in a limited amount of space.
But before we dive into some solutions to ease your sizzling slumber, it’s important to quickly discuss the close relationship between sleep and body temperature.
Why Do We Sleep? What Benefits Does It Provide?
This is because sleep helps our brain (and therefore our emotions) work properly, heals our heart and blood vessels, balances hormones, supports growth and development, helps retain memories, supports immune function, and improves overall efficiency.
In other words, the less sleep you get, the greater negative impact it will have on your health.
From this perspective, what helps us fall—and stay—asleep?
What Is the Circadian Rhythm?
Most living things, including animals, plants, and many microbes, adhere to a genetically driven 24-hour cycle called a circadian rhythm (commonly called the biological clock, although these are two separate—but related—terms).
Your circadian rhythm is controlled by a bundle of nerves in the middle of your brain, which is connected to a number of other brain regions, including the optic nerve and the eyes. As a result, light seems to play the largest role in setting and maintaining your circadian clock.
This is why we tend to slow down and become sleepy when it’s dark, while becoming more alert and active during the day (well, most of us anyway!).
But an organism’s circadian rhythm doesn’t just determine human sleep patterns; it’s also responsible for other important functions like the release of hormones and regulating body temperature.
The Close Relationship Between Sleep & Body Temperature
During the day, your circadian rhythm (or more specifically, your pituitary gland) keeps your body temperature somewhere between 98.6 and 100.4 degrees. At night, however, this can drop as low as 96 degrees for a period.
Why? Many mammals—humans included—lose much of their ability to regulate body temperature during sleep.
Further, there’s a direct relationship between sleep and body temperature. The lower your body temperature, the sleepier you become. And the deeper your sleep, the lower your temperature falls.
As Michael Howell, MD and CEO and Co-Founder of Sleep Performance Institute tells us, “Body temperature is an important component of sleep. Our body temperature drops by about a half a degree centigrade when we first fall asleep. Later, during REM sleep, our body stops generating its own heat (we become ectothermic, or cold-blooded).”
In the end, this means that your surrounding environment plays a huge role in determining body temperature while you slumber. You want to maintain a fine balance between a low enough body temperature that’s conducive to sleep, but one that’s also high enough, so you don’t wake up from the cold.
With this in mind, what are some factors that can throw off this balance and increase your sleeping temperature?
What Causes Excessive Heat While Sleeping?
Sleep is a highly complicated—not to mention personal—process, which likely means that the combination of factors causing your excessive heat is unique. This is why it’s so beneficial to start your quest for relief by speaking with your doctor.
Dr. Fritz Hershey underscores this fact when stating, “Night sweats can represent many diagnosable medical and psychological conditions needing medical attention.”
On the other hand, they “can also represent normal personally variable temperature fluctuations, or just sleeping in too hot a room.”
To help you get a better handle on the situation, let’s quickly take a look at some of the most common causes.
Medical Issues That Can Heat You Up at Night
While you might think of your nightly sweat sessions as relatively harmless, it’s important to outline some of the most common—and even potentially serious—causes.
Donnica L. Moore, MD, and President of Sapphire Women’s Health Group notes that, “the biggest medical issue for people who sleep hot is menopause. More than 5,000 women enter menopause per day in the US and Canada.” Other common causes include:
- Certain prescription medications like antidepressants, as well as OTC options like aspirin and acetaminophen
- Low blood sugar, especially related to diabetes
- Rare conditions like idiopathic hyperhidrosis, where the body produces too much sweat
- Eating disorders, head trauma, and genetic disorders that cause the hypothalamus to malfunction
Donnica continues, however: “Many other medical problems and conditions can cause night sweats including thyroid disorders and both acute and chronic infections. Consult your personal physician if you think this may be the case.”
Dr. Neil Kline, a board-certified sleep physician and representative of the American Sleep Association, tells us that cortisol plays an important role in temperature regulation. Since the secretion of this hormone generally slows down at night, too much can lead to excessive heat.
Michael Howell adds that untreated disorders such as sleep apnea and restless legs syndrome can “prevent an individual from falling and staying asleep because their body temperature remains elevated, instead of dropping normally.”
Less common blood-born malignancies like leukemia and lymphoma can also cause night sweats. Michael tells us that you should be concerned and seek your doctor’s advice if you’re experiencing night sweats and losing weight without trying.
Environmental Factors That Can Lead to Hot Sleeping
Obviously, what happens outside your body can cause just as many (if not more) heat problems that what happens on the inside.
This includes too-hot room temperatures, too much (or too thick) blankets or comforters, fabric materials that don’t allow for proper air exchange (think ultra-high thread count sheets), some mattress materials (memory foam is notorious for sleeping hot), and even the wrong pillows.
Most of us also spend a great deal of time in front of electronics these days, whether it’s PCs, laptops, tablets, or smartphones.
At night, as your body’s circadian rhythm inches you closer toward sleep, the blue light emitted by these screens can reduce melatonin levels when viewed too close to bed—and can even throw off the function of internal organs, leading to poor (or hotter) sleep.
Finally, consuming spicy foods, hot beverages, and alcohol too close to bedtime can also artificially increase your internal temperature.
Given all these different causes, what can you do to reduce your temperature and sleep more comfortably?
25 Ways You Can Cool Off When Sleeping
Are you ready for some actionable tips? We have a lot for you, which we’ve split into four different sections:
Suggestions for the Ideal Room Temperature & Environment
The National Sleep Foundation notes that the ideal sleeping temperature is between 60 and 67 degrees, although Dr. Neil Kline recommends sleeping “in a climate controlled setting that favors cooler rather than warmer temperatures. A room temperature of about 70 degrees is recommended.”
Bottom line? You’ll almost certainly need to test out different temperatures to find the ideal setting for your needs.
To accomplish this, you can adjust your heat and air conditioning, open windows, keep your bedroom door open, and do your best to keep the sun out of your room during the day (thermal blinds or shades could be a good option if you live in a particularly sunny climate).
Dr. Burhenne tells us that his favorite practical tip for more comfortable sleep when it’s too warm outside is to put a box fan on the floor, turn it to its lowest setting, and face it so that it blows air over the bed.
“Don’t point the fan at you directly, as this will create an uncomfortable breeze all night long. Instead, with the air flying over you, your skin will breathe better while you sleep. Try it; it always works to everyone’s amazement!”
As a last resort, if your bedroom is upstairs and none of these environmental tips deliver relief, you might consider sleeping downstairs, since hot air rises.
Clothing Options for Hot Sleepers
Next to room temperature, perhaps the easiest factor to change when experiencing sleep heat is your clothing.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, cotton’s breathability can help keep you cool at night. But it doesn’t wick moisture, so it’s not ideal if you experience night sweats—in which case something made of moisture-wicking fabric might work better.
Specifically, Dr. Burhenne recommends lightweight polypropylene clothing, since it “wicks away moisture from your skin, therefore allowing you to sleep warmer, yet feel cooler.”
Silk also does a great job at thermoregulation, but it’s expensive and not everyone appreciates its slippery feel.
Finally, thicker fabrics like flannel, wool, and fleece certainly have their benefits, but they’re also known to promote overheating, so you might want to avoid them if you tend to sleep hot.
Donnica L. Moore tells us, “An entire closet industry has cropped up with wicking and cooler fabrics,” so you’ll certainly want to check out some of these options as well during your research. To kick things off, try searching online for “climate-controlled pajamas.”
Pro tip: Although it might seem counterintuitive, sleeping with clothes on might better address hot sleep than your ‘birthday suit’, since fabric can help wick away moisture.
Regarding Bedding, What Should Hot Sleepers Focus On?
As with clothing, cotton sheets tend to breathe better than flannel, satin, polyester, and lycra. You’ll also want to focus on fill material and thicknesses for comforters and pillows.
Although fill power and loft can differ significantly between models, goose down is often considered a solid insulator while allowing plenty of air circulation, while wool is especially efficient at drawing away body moisture. However, wool also has a tendency to trap heat.
From a pillow perspective, some professionals tout buckwheat’s breathability, although you might have to give up some measure of comfort as a tradeoff.
Dr. Mark Burhenne tells us that using a foam block pillow rather than a down pillow can help reduce heat, since the down traps air, while foam allows air to flow and escape in areas where your head makes contact.
“If you are a side sleeper, you will be able to breathe better with a foam block pillow, since the foam blocks support you better than down, which collapses in a matter of minutes.”
On the other hand, Dr. Jason Loth, a 17+ year chiropractic doctor and sports physician, recommends:
“Looser material, like a shredded material, allows airflow; as opposed to single piece foam that doesn’t breathe or move, and prevents good airflow. This goes for covers to your pillows and mattresses as well. Breathable material can go a long way to sleeping cooler.”
See Also: Top Pillow Picks for Each Position
Finally, the mattress you lie on can have a massive impact on how hot you sleep. Although they’ve come a long way over the past several decades, memory foam mattresses have a reputation for sleeping hotter than other types.
The good news is that many online-only mattress manufacturers offer extensive (and often free) in-home trials, giving you plenty of time to discern how much cooler you’ll sleep, without putting your hard-earned money on the line.
As with all of the other suggestions here, it will likely take some trial and error before you find the right combination of factors—including bedding—that can help you sleep cooler.
Are There Any Other Options to Help You Sleep Cooler?
We talked about climate-controlled pajamas earlier, so let’s quickly bring it back. Lara Little, whose brand Lusomé manufactures a line of climate controlled pajamas and loungewear, recommends focusing on hydration—just be sure that you don’t drink so much that it disturbs your sleep.
If you’re tired of water, she notes you can “try more delicious options, like eating a variety of water-based fruits such as watermelons, grapes, and cucumbers. Freeze the grapes to get a deeper chill and taste.”
Anita Mahaffey, environmental sleep specialist and CEO/Founder of Cool-Jams, Inc., notes that “a cool room and a hot-water bottle placed at the feet can rapidly dilate blood vessels and help lower core temperature, pushing the internal thermostat to a better setting.”
You can also place a cold compress on your ankles, wrists, neck, elbow, groin, and behind the knees to cool your core temperature down and help reduce your heart rate.
Try to avoid eating large meals at night, so your metabolism doesn’t have to work as hard. Raw fruits and vegetables require less metabolic energy to digest than proteins and fats, so they can make great choices for evening snacks.
Dr. Burhenne notes that taking a hot shower before bed will activate your body’s cooling mechanism for hours. Additionally, he claims that the UV exposure from a 15-minute dose of sun (with the proper protection, of course!) during the day can help reset your circadian rhythm and reduce your temperature at night.
Dr. Michael Howell, MD tells us that there aren’t any medications or surgeries that specifically drop body temperature, although hormone replacement therapy (HRT) may help alleviate some menopause symptoms, including sleeping hot and night sweats.
The Bottom Line About Sleeping Hot
As we’ve mentioned a couple of times already, like any other medical condition, the precise factors causing you to sleep hot are unique. This means you’ll likely need to figure out the unique combination of remedies that can deliver relief, including medical, environmental, bedding, and clothing.
As always, you’ll want to get your doctor involved as soon as possible, who can make recommendations based on your diagnosis.
In the meantime, you’re now armed with the basic information you need to start sleeping cooler while waking up refreshed and ready to take on the day.
Before you go: In your experience, what are some other methods hot sleepers can use to cool down? Help HighYa’s readers find solutions by leaving your comment below!
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