How To Sleep When It’s Too Darn Hot

Actually, an icy shower won't do you any favors.
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It’s been hot lately, as you well know.

Philadelphia hit 90 degrees last week for the eighth (8th!) day in a row. D.C. cracked 100 degrees earlier this month, breaking 10 heat records along the way. And the heat wave got so severe in the Big Apple, thieves resorted to stealing ice cream. ICE CREAM! And there was talk of cockroaches flying, too.

If these high temperatures are keeping you up at night, you’re not alone. Temperature plays a big role in how well we sleep, said Phyllis Zee, director of the Sleep Disorders Center at Northwestern Memorial Hospital.

That’s because body temperature drops when you’re sleeping, and the deeper your sleep, the lower it goes, Zee explained. “Part of the process that allows us to sleep is getting rid of some of the heat load you’ve generated throughout the day.”

Research shows there’s actually a sleep-inducing not-too-cold, not-too-hot body temperature. And to reach that sleep sweet spot, experts recommend keeping bedrooms between 60 and 67 degrees.

The obvious fix is investing in an air conditioner. But if that’s not an option, Zee has a few suggestions to chill you out:

1. Stay hydrated

Drink up!
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Drink up!

Sweating is one way the body cools down. But you need to be hydrated enough to let your perspiration actually work, Zee said, so make sure you’re drinking plenty of water. Some people try to avoid drinking too many liquids before bed to avoid a 3 a.m. bathroom trip, but don’t worry too much: All that sweating won’t just cool you off, it will also reduce your need to pee.

2. Skip the ice bath

Anyone whose ridden a broiling, A/C-less subway car has dreamt of an ice cold shower. But, a deep freeze is not necessarily the best way to chill out, Zee explained.

Though your body needs to cool off, if your extremities get too cold too fast, your blood vessels constrict. And that keeps your heat in, Zee said.

“You don’t want to fool your body into thinking you’re cold,” she said. “You want your brain to think that you’re hot so that it tries to get rid of the heat.”

A moderate, room-temperature shower ― just cold enough to feel refreshing ― can help your blood vessels dilate and get rid of heat to cool you down, she said.

“You want your brain to think that you’re hot so that it tries to get rid of the heat.”

- Phyllis Zee, director of the Sleep Disorders Center at Northwestern Memorial Hospital

3. Think ventilation

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Use a fan ― and use it strategically. Position it low to the ground or near a window to circulate some of that cooler air, Zee said.

4. Stay low

Hot air rises. So the lower you can sleep to the ground, the better. If you live in a multiple-story house or apartment, try sleeping on the first floor or basement, where the temperature will likely be a few degrees cooler. Can’t go downstairs? Sleeping on the floor might offer some relief, Zee said.

5. Give your mattress a break

Your pillow top might feel like a dream, but on super-hot nights it could be a sneaky sleep saboteur. Thick mattresses tend to retain body heat, Zee said.

You’re probably not going to swap mattresses for a few hot summer nights, but if you tend to feel hot when you sleep, consider heat when picking your next mattress. And if you decide to try out your floor for sticky evenings, try a thin pad or cushion to let your body heat escape, Zee said.

6. Dress loose and light

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This may be an obvious one, but it’s worth repeating since the right sleepwear can be the difference between waking up feeling rested and rejuvenated versus waking up in sweat-drenched sheets and pajamas.

Loose, light and natural or dry-fit fabrics are best for drying quickly as you sweat, Zee said.

7. Move up your workout

If your schedule allows, move that gym session earlier in the day.

There’s plenty of evidence that clocking regular exercise is great for your sleep. But working out too close to sleep, especially in hot and humid weather, is going to further increase your core body temperature, which means it has to make a bigger drop to get to that ideal temp for sleeping, Zee explained.

A heatwave doesn’t have to spell disaster for your sleep. With a little strategizing, you can get cool and comfortable.

Sarah DiGiulio is The Huffington Post’s sleep reporter. You can contact her at

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