You’re tossing and turning. You’re flipping your pillow over to find the cool side, but everything feels warm.
Whether you don’t have air conditioning (AC) or maybe your air conditioner is broken temporarily, sleep can seem impossible when it’s too warm.
But don’t panic – you will sleep well again, and we’re here with more information about sleeping in the heat and ways to find relief from those hot summer nights.
It can be hard, and potentially unhealthy, to sleep in the heat
Many people wonder if it’s unhealthy to sleep in the heat, especially when a heat wave rolls around. The answer is a little mixed. For one thing, people have survived for thousands of years before air conditioning was invented. But now that AC is an option – is it bad for you to sleep in the heat?
Research shows sleep can be disrupted by temperatures anywhere below 65 degrees Fahrenheit or above 75 degrees Fahrenheit. But for most people, heat interferes with sleep more than cold does. Sleep experts believe the best temperature for great sleep is between 68-72 degrees Fahrenheit.
But in addition to making you uncomfortable and interfering with healthy sleep patterns, being too hot at any time of day or night can cause health risks like dehydration and heat stroke. That’s why it’s important to recognize the first signs of heat exhaustion, which can include:
- Heavy sweating
- Dizziness or fainting
- Cool and clammy skin
- Irritability and occasionally confusion
Read more about heat stroke and treatment options for relief. If you’re worried for yourself or someone else who may not be able to cool down, and are confused or weak, call 911.
James Davig, PhD is a sleep psychologist at Regions Hospital Sleep Health Center. He’s familiar with questions about how to sleep without AC, so he’s gathered some tips for us on sleeping well when it feels too hot to sleep:
Sleep with thin sheets, and try cooling them beforehand
Some people need the reassuring weight of several blankets on top of them to get a good night’s rest. Once summer comes around, all those covers can make you too warm, but it can be hard to let them go. When it’s warm outside, try limiting yourself to just a top sheet, one made from cotton or linen. It will keep you cool, and the small bit of tactile sensation from a thin sheet can help you relax. For an extra cooling effect, put your top sheet or pillowcase in the fridge or freezer a few hours before bed so it’s cool when you go to sleep.
Wear cotton or linen pajamas to bed
What you choose to wear (or not wear) to bed can make a big difference in how well you sleep. If you prefer staying clothed while sleeping, cotton and linen are both light and breathable. Pajamas made from either material can help you feel more comfortable at night by allowing body heat to escape more freely.
Place cool, wet cloths on yourself or gel pads on your bed
Putting a cool, wet towel on your forehead is a simple way to help you feel more comfortable and speed up heat loss. Or buy cooling gel pads and put them in the refrigerator before bed. You can place them in your bed to cool it down, or press them against your forehead, inner elbows or under your arms and legs to help bring your body temperature down.
Sleep on a lower floor
Heat rises, making upstairs rooms (where people traditionally sleep) unpleasantly hot. On especially hot nights, head for lower ground. Sleep on the first floor or in the basement if you live in a multi-story home. Even if that means gathering up your pillow, sheet and cell phone charger and setting up a makeshift bed on the couch.
Take a cool shower before bed
Taking a cool shower before bed can lower your body temperature and help you relax. It’s also likely to improve that sticky feeling that makes it difficult to sleep. (Avoid putting on any lotion before bed as that can make the sticky feeling worse.)
Keep a bottle of water nearby
Keep a bottle of water on your nightstand. A few sips of water can be refreshing and help cool you down. Keep in mind, you’ll want to drink cool or room-temperature water. Room temperature water is easier for your body to process than cold water, which your body actually needs to warm up to absorb. You can also consider pressing that cool water bottle to your inner elbows or neck to help lower your body temperature.
Keep alcohol consumption to a minimum
While alcohol may help you fall asleep, it’s not good at keeping you asleep. In fact, it can interrupt your sleep cycles and make sleep quality worse. It’s also a good idea to avoid consuming too much caffeine in the second half of the day, which can make falling and staying asleep more difficult.
Limit exercise before bed
Exercise increases your body heat and can also make it hard to relax and fall asleep. Plan your exercise earlier in the day to give your body a chance to wind down and cool off several hours before bed.
How to cool a room without AC
Now that you have plenty of tips on how to keep your body cool at night, how can you cool the room you’re sleeping in without the help of air conditioning? Keep these recommendations in mind for sleeping through the next heat wave:
Use a fan – air circulation is key
Whether it’s a ceiling fan, box fan or oscillating (rotating) fan, anything can help. A fan helps move the air around the room – and around your body – offering a sense of relief and increasing the chance of sweat evaporating. It also makes "white noise," an added benefit for blocking out other disruptive sounds during sleep.
You can even build a makeshift air conditioner by filling a shallow pan with water and ice, then positioning a fan to blow across the pan towards your bed.
Use a dehumidifier
Can humidity make you sick? Yes, it can. High humidity can make the temperature feel significantly hotter, leading to risks of dehydration, heat exhaustion and heatstroke. Humidity can also complicate existing health conditions by wearing on your body too much. Using a dehumidifier can help cut down on humidity and make the room less sticky and much more comfortable. Be aware that certain medications can make you more vulnerable to heat and humidity.
Keep heat out during the day by closing blinds and windows
Unless there’s a cooling breeze coming through the windows, it’s a good idea to close your windows and blinds during the day to keep your home as cool as possible. Open windows again at night when the temperature outside is likely cooler and the fresh air can improve air circulation.
Options for getting AC in your home
If you’re feeling miserable without AC and you’re renting a home or apartment, consider asking your landlord or property manager about adding an AC unit. There are also window units you can buy and install yourself, but it’s a good idea to ask first.
If you’re looking to add a forced-air AC unit to your home but you’re on a budget, call around to local heating and cooling companies. They may be able to get you on a monthly payment plan that’s affordable for you and will improve your sleep health and quality of life significantly.
Get the summer sleep you need
Hot nights can seem endless when sleep won’t come. And with how active the summer can be, you need quality, restful sleep to keep up with the season. If you find that your sleep difficulties linger into fall, or seem to last all year long no matter the weather, our board-certified sleep medicine experts can help.