Experts widely recommend a temperature between 60 and 67 degrees Fahrenheit for ideal sleep. Achieving a cooler temperature can be difficult in many areas of the world, even with the help of an air conditioner. When you can’t keep it frosty indoors, you must work with what you have. And when you have high or oppressive heat levels, it means employing a variety of techniques to stay as hydrated and comfortable, and improve your sleep.
Drink Plenty of Water
Drinking enough water is key to staying comfortable at night and sleeping as much as possible, as dehydration leads to insomnia. Insomnia leads to more tossing and turning, which means you have more time to think about how hot it is.
The rule of thumb is to drink eight 8-ounce glasses of water each day. If the weather is hot, try increasing your intake by an additional two glasses to stay cooler and compensate for additional sweating. Add other sources of water to your diet also such as jello, popsicles and fruit juices as a way to provide additional hydration beyond your base 64 ounces per day.
In extreme heat (a heat index in excess of 103 degrees), drink even more water. Four cups — the equivalent of two average size water bottles — is an acceptable amount to drink hourly when you’re outdoors or working in high heat. Spread your water consumption across the day to keep repeat bathroom trips from interrupting your sleep.
As you prepare for bed, take a couple of bottles of chilled water from the fridge and place them at your bedside table or on the floor. Even though ice water isn’t best for sleeping, this water is for sipping if you wake up during the night. By the time you take a drink, it should be pleasantly cool or room temperature — not ice-cold.
Cold water is not your friend when you are hot because going into shock is a distinct possibility. Therefore, room temperature water is the easiest on the body, but if you can’t stand it, strike a compromise. Refrigerate your water and let it sit out for several minutes before drinking.
Avoid Exercise Prior to Bed
Exercise is great for the body, and sweat is a natural cooling mechanism. However, the benefits of a good sweat are counteracted when you are too hot to sleep comfortably. High-intensity cardio, such as running, using an elliptical or aerobics, and aggressive weight training make the body work hard. The body needs a few hours to cool down and calm down before sleep time.
Additionally, consider avoiding relaxing workouts like yoga. Even though they balance body and mind, the body is still challenged and core temperature can rise. If a bit of movement before bed is an essential part of your life, limit yourself to the simplest stretches for a very short time period.
Avoid Large Meals & Spicy Food
Eating a large meal rarely feels right during a heat wave. That feeling is your body talking to you, as our appetites naturally adjust in warm weather away from dense meals. Part of the trend is based on increased availability of lighter, fresh foods, such as salad greens straight from a garden. Additionally, there is a metabolic basis for the change in our taste buds, as certain foods require more energy to digest, meaning your body’s engine prepares to process a potato differently than it does a piece of lettuce. Increased activity in the digestive tract means increased heat throughout the body.
The same principle applies to spicy foods. This extends beyond the extremes, such as hot sauce or jalapeños, and it also includes table pepper and other strong flavors such as onions.
An added benefit of avoiding large meals is increased comfort at bedtime. Without a large meal digesting, sleep comes easier because you feel less bloated.
Take a Lukewarm Bath or Shower
Taking an icy bath or shower lowers body temperature, but, much like the drinking water scenario above, can be a shock to the body. Instead, adjust the temperature in your bath to lukewarm. If hot is your standard shower temperature, start with a warm tap and gradually lower the hot water level until it is cooler than your body temperature.
On a particularly hot day, you can lay in a lukewarm bath and feel your body gradually heat up the water. Stay in the water or shower until it feels like your body has cooled off, but no more than 20-30 minutes at one time.
Soak Hands and Feet in Tepid Water
When water supplies are limited, many of the same benefits of a lukewarm soak can be realized with just the hands and feet submerged. On hot days, fill a bowl or small tub with enough lukewarm water to submerge your feet. Top off a second bowl with enough to fully cover your hands. Let the soak continue for at least 10 minutes to let your body heat dissipate.
You may also consider splashing a bit of cool or lukewarm water over your head when soaking. Body heat is also lost through the head, and even a quick rinse provides a cooling effect.
Replace Heavy Bedding With Lighter Bedding
Lightweight bedding maximizes airflow. Thick sheets in the winter feature tightly woven material to create an insulating effect. Summer bedding is just the opposite.
A light weave creates the opportunity for airflow and helps keep the skin dry overnight. When possible, invest in a cooling fabric, such as linen or cotton. Eco-friendly bamboo is also a cooling material with a soft surface perfect for sleeping on in lighter weight clothing.
To maximize the effects of good bedding choices, consider taking your mattress to the coolest room in the house to promote better sleep. Sometimes, this means bunking down on the kitchen floor during a heat wave or camping in the hallway, but the enhanced sleep makes it all worthwhile.
Sleep in Cotton and Dress Lightly For Bed
As you sleep and sweat, a thin cotton pajama set can be a life saver, as the fabric helps wick away sweat at high-heat locations, such as the armpits and groin, and all over to keep you cooler as the night progresses. Keep extra pairs of pajamas when you can. If you wake up sweat soaked, change to a fresh pair to stay cool.
Encourage Airflow With a Fan
In the absence of an air conditioner, a fan is a godsend. A gentle breeze through your lightweight linens or pajamas helps keep the body cool. Position a fan for sleeping where it can pull cooler air, if possible, toward you. For example, if your hallway is cooler, put the fan near the bedroom door to pull in the lower temperature air for an extra cool blast. This technique works particularly well when your home is cooled by a window air conditioner in one area but stays hot in others. Fans easily direct airflow from the AC to other rooms.
Make an Ice Towel or Use a Fan with Water
A fan also partners nicely with ancient cooling techniques that rely on water to lower temperature, as wet blankets and tubs of cold water with hand-powered fans provided cooling power for the wealthy. The same principle still works in the modern era and is enhanced by different types of fans.
When you don’t feel like a bucket of water will cut it, improvise. Take a large bowl or pan of ice and place it on a stool in front of your fan to enhance this old technique. As the ice melts, you can stay even more cool. When it is pure liquid, you still gain the benefits of the traditional option.
An ice towel is also a great way to beat the heat. Cool rags are available for purchase for all-day use, but you can also do it yourself for temporary relief. Take a towel and mist it with water, or wet it and let it dry slightly. Place in the freezer and remove when you need a cooling cloth. If the towel is too wet, it freezes too hard to be useful immediately, so only a light coating of water is recommended. When the towel proves unruly upon removal, place it in the sink for a few minutes to thaw and then shape into a neck collar or upper body wrap.
Alternatively, suspend an ice towel from a ceiling or chair in front of a table fan. Place a second towel at the floor to collect any dripping.
Sleep With an Ice Pack or Cool Towel
An ice pack or cold towel at key body hot spots provides an opportunity to slip comfortably into sleep. For the most relaxing experience, wrap an ice pack in a cloth or towel to prevent direct contact with the skin. Place it near your feet or head for best results.
Additionally, consider chilling wristbands or a headband to beat the heat. Use the ice towel method to freeze your everyday bands, or invest in cooling specific gear.
Before sleep, consider placing an ice pack at the armpits and groin to cool off your body where blood flow is close to the skin’s surface. Paired with a lukewarm soak of the hands and feet or a lukewarm shower, this can provide extreme relief from the heat and a good night’s sleep.
Heat waves are uncomfortable. Whether you have an inadequate air conditioner or no AC at all, you need to take extra steps to stay cool all day and rest properly at night. Many of the best techniques for lowering body temperature are already easily accessible in your home or apartment, and they often provide the relief needed to slip into a deep slumber and achieve more resting hours before body heat starts to rise.
Fortunate enough to have a fully functioning AC but living on a budget? Use a mixture of these techniques to reduce your reliance on the cooling system and lower your energy costs during peak seasons.