If you’re reading this article, I can only assume you’re familiar with the frustrating feeling of tossing and turning all night because it’s too hot to sleep.
It’s a feeling I know only too well as I’m a perennially hot sleeper who needs a cool bedroom temperature to fall asleep.
If you don’t have air conditioning in your home, all is not lost though. There are still plenty of techniques to try that can help make your bedroom feel more like a cool cave than a sweaty sauna.
In this article, I’ll be sharing my top tips to help you navigate the sweltering nights ahead a little better. There are plenty of ideas that don’t require much effort or expense that you can do right away, along with my thoughts on bedroom products that might be worth considering in the long run.
1. Have a shower before going to bed
Let’s start with one of the simplest techniques, and one of the best in my experience: have a shower before going to bed.
It doesn’t need to be a cold shower; a warm or lukewarm shower to freshen up usually does the trick. If you prefer to take a bath, it’s probably better not to do so right before going to bed though, but a little while beforehand instead. It can take time for the body to cool down after a long soak in a hot bath.
Having a shower works well for three main reasons:
- It might sound counterintuitive when your aim is to cool down, but warm water (or bedding) can increase vasodilation. This means increased blood flow in your extremities like the hands and feet, where heat can escape. It’s one of the main ways your body cools itself in preparation for sleep (see my article about the ideal bedroom temperature for more on this concept).
- A lowering body temperature is good for sleep, and we tend to fall asleep when our core body temperature is falling most rapidly.
- It feels good to freshen up before getting into bed, and the bed can feel cozier when you’re straight out of the shower.
2. Use windows, curtains, blinds and shutters to your advantage
Depending on how hot it is exactly, keeping doors and/or windows open all day might be all you need to do to keep the house cooler, especially if it creates a breeze and lets the heat out.
If you have curtains, blinds, or shutters, it might help to keep them closed when the sun is shining directly through the windows of that room though. This is a trick that many people in very hot countries do as it can help reduce how much the sun heats the room up.
If your curtains or blinds are made of a dark colored material, however, they might absorb heat rather than reflect it. So it might help to change them for a light colored material to reflect the sun away from the windows. When I lived in Andalucia in Spain, it amazed me how many buildings, doors, and shutters were painted white. It was all about reflecting the sun, and it worked.
What you keep open or closed, and for what length of time, has to be balanced with your need for natural light and fresh air – especially if you live in a home that is very well sealed with little airflow when all the windows are closed. Venetian blinds can help with the need for daylight because you can adjust them to help reflect some sunlight away from the room, but still let plenty of light in.
As for keeping windows open or closed, the World Health Organisation advises openings windows and shutters during the morning and evening, but keeping them closed during the daytime on the side that the sun is facing.
To quote their article:
At night and early morning when the outside temperature is lower, open all the windows and shutters in your home. During the day, close the windows and shutters (if available), especially those facing the sun during the day.World Health Organisation
Personally, I think some common sense is needed to decide which windows to keep open or closed, and for how long.
3. Open windows to create a cross breeze in the night
If you didn’t have all the windows open during the day, when the temperature drops in the evening open them to let some (hopefully) cooler air flow through your house and bedroom.
Try to create a cross breeze through your bedroom too. If you have two windows on opposite sides of the room, opening both will do that. If you only have windows on one wall, opening windows in an adjacent room and keeping the doors open to let the breeze flow through will work too.
If you have an upstairs, attic, or loft, open any windows or hatches up there to allow rising heat to escape.
Depending on your floor and window, one experiment worth trying is to hang a cool wet sheet by the window to see if any air blowing in can be made a little cooler. This won’t work for every room though, and you need to check for too much dripping on the floor.
4. Sleep on a cooling mattress pad
There are many mattresses, toppers, and pads that are marketed as being cooling. And while they may be more breathable than others, many of them don’t really provide active cooling – they just sleep less hot than standard materials.
Even that can help improve the heat build-up under your body though, and the ones that do have active cooling can make a huge difference. Take a look at my overview of cooling mattress pads to see what kind of high-tech bedding options are out there.
If you currently sleep on a memory foam mattress or use a memory foam mattress topper, I recommend experimenting with a different surface if you can.
Memory foam is notorious for trapping body heat, so you might find some relief if you remove the topper in hot weather. If you have a guest bedroom that doesn’t have memory foam on the bed, you could also try that bed to see if it sleeps cooler.
If you’d like to try a more breathable mattress topper or mattress, I recommend considering latex or wool. Latex and wool tend to be more breathable than memory foam or plush toppers that contain polyester fiber fill. Take a look at my comparison of mattress toppers to see which ones I currently recommend for hot or cold sleepers.
5. Experiment with fans
Fans can work wonders if you don’t mind the feeling of the air flowing over you. There are many different fan options to consider, which will depend on your budget and need for serious cooling.
You can use a normal fan and point it directly at your body, or experiment with pointing the fan out of the window to blow warm air out of the bedroom.
If you have some funds available, you could install a ceiling fan above your bed, or get one of the latest high-tech cooling gadgets, such as the BedJet 3. You can find out more about that one in my BedJet review.
If you use a normal fan, try putting a container of ice right behind the fan. A simple trick is to fill a couple of plastic drinks bottles with water and freeze them. Then stand them just behind the fan to cool the air it draws in and blows towards you.
Alternatively, just fill pans from the kitchen with ice and let the cool air that rises out of them get blown toward you by the fan.
6. Install air conditioning or try a portable unit
It can be expensive to install air conditioning in your home, but it might be a worthwhile investment if you live in an unbearably hot region. If you already have air conditioning, just not in the bedroom, try moving your bed temporarily in extreme weather to be closer to the unit.
When I lived in Spain and it would top 100° F for days on end in the summer, I used to cart my mattress to the living room every night, where it was always cooler.
If installing air con in your home is beyond your budget currently, there are plenty of good portable units you could use in the bedroom at night.
A good one will still be a bit of an investment, but it’s much cheaper than installing air con in a home that wasn’t built with it included. You can find them online and in large home improvement stores.
If you’re interested in air conditioning, I recommend doing plenty of research before you invest in it. One helpful overview article I recommend from the US is at Familyhandyman.com. And another good article can be found on the UK website homebuilding.co.uk.
7. Do exercise earlier
Don’t do intense exercise in the couple of hours leading up to bedtime if you’re able to do it earlier. It can take a long time for your body to return to its normal temperature, which might lead to you feeling hot and sticky in bed.
Personally, if I go to bed at 10 p.m. in the summer, I try to be finishing up in the gym by 7 p.m. at the latest whenever possible.
To be honest though, if I can’t make it to the gym until later, I still prefer the positive effect of exercise on my sleep, even if I have to go to bed feeling warmer than I’d ideally like to be. So I think this is one to experiment with for a few days to see if changing your exercise time has any effect.
And if it’s a particularly hot day, avoid doing strenuous exercise outdoors.
8. Adjust your meals for hot weather
You might find you feel cooler in bed if you don’t eat a very large meal late in the evening. Digesting food raises your body temperature (especially large portions of meat). So it may be better to eat a big lunch and have a lighter meal or snack in the evening.
It might also help to eat cooler food like salads in the evening and avoid having the oven blazing away for long periods of time. If you can’t go without a bigger dinner though, perhaps avoid big steaks on the hottest nights.
On the topic of appliances, you might be able to reduce some heat in the home by keeping electrical appliances switched off if you don’t need to use them (not the fridge or freezer though, which obviously need to be on at all times).
9. Choose cotton or linen bedding
The material you both sleep on and have covering you can make a huge difference to how cool you feel at night.
I recommend using bedding made from natural fibers, such as cotton or linen. It might also help to only sleep with a sheet covering you instead of any thicker bedding like duvets or blankets. Put the winter bedding away and keep it light in the summer, if you haven’t done so already.
Investing in high-quality bedding rather than cheap synthetic fabrics like polyester will hopefully mean it lasts longer too, which is also better for the environment.
10. Cool your bedding before going to bed
Put your sheets in a plastic bag and put them in the freezer for a while before going to bed. Then take them out and create a little fabric cooling cocoon.
I know it sounds a little odd, but it can really help to keep you cool for just long enough to fall asleep.
11. Wear cotton nightwear
Wear light cotton nightwear rather than synthetic material, no matter how smooth velvet or some polyester styles might feel on the skin. Either that or sleep in your birthday suit!
12. Keep hydrated
Make sure you keep hydrated during the day and in the evening. Try not to drink alcohol, tea, or coffee before bed. Keep a drink of water by the bed to sip during the night.
If you’re out in the sun on hot days, make sure you keep well hydrated too. Try your best not to get sunburnt: stick to the shade, wear a hat, and use sunscreen. It’s even harder to fall asleep on a hot night if you’re sunburnt from a long day at the beach.
I know only too well how hard it is to sleep when you spend a bit too long snorkeling on holiday, no matter how many gallons of aloe vera after sun you attempt to cure yourself with!
13. Allow some space between you and your partner in bed
If you sleep with a partner, keeping some space between you rather than snuggling up will help you keep cool. Of course, not everyone has a big enough bed to leave loads of space between you.
Even if you don’t, a little space for air to circulate might help rather than being two biological radiators welded together with sweat. If necessary, you could also try using separate bedding rather than sharing one cover.
And as much as some people might like sleeping with their pet on the bed, they are essentially four-legged hot water bottles. Great in the winter. Not so much in the summer.
14. Use a slatted bed frame
Using a bed frame that has slats rather than a solid divan bed base might help a little with temperature regulation. If you have a memory foam mattress on top of a solid bed base, you might get even more cooling mileage out of changing both.
15. Lower your body temperature before bed
Try to lower your body temperature before you go to bed. A falling body temperature is one of the signals your brain uses to produce more melatonin, which then makes you feel sleepy.
That’s one reason a shower before bed helps – even if it warms you initially, your temperature then starts to fall again when you get out.
It’s also the reason I personally avoid late-night exercise, and try to avoid being in a hot kitchen at night. I have a nightly meditation routine too, and I feel that helps reduce stress, which in turn stops me from feeling hot and bothered.
If your home stays warm but the temperature drops outside at night, getting outside for some fresh air before going to bed might also help with this.
There have been some great suggestions from readers in the comments below, so I’ve started a list of the best ones. Thank you all for taking the time to share your ideas!
- Soak and then freeze some socks to then wear in the evening (might result in a wet bed though…)
- Eat a Popsicle or frozen food before going to bed.
- Put a cold towel on the head before and when in bed.
- Move your mattress to the floor because heat rises.
- Put ice inside a wet cloth in a bag, and place it inside the pillow.
- Change your night clothes if you feel too hot.
- Wear as little as possible in bed.
- If you have long hair, tie it up to allow body heat to disperse better.
- If you can, put up a reflective or white shade on the outside walls that get the afternoon sun.
- Put some cold water in a jug or bottle in the fridge. Then put it into a hot water bottle to make a cold water bottle.
- Drape a cold cloth or flannel over a fan pointing at the bed.
- Sleep with your arms and legs stretched out.
- Use Aloe Vera to cool and moisturize the skin.
- Put a couple of drops of peppermint essential oil in a spray bottle mixed with cool water. Shake the bottle and mist yourself before going to bed.
- Spray icy water on the sheets before getting into bed.
- Do the tried and tested trick of turning your pillow and covers over if you overheat.
- Take a sports injury ice bag to bed.
If you’re experiencing a heatwave where you live, I recommend reading the World Health Organisation’s guidance for keeping cool during a heatwave. As well as offering advice for staying safe during the daytime, they also have some ideas for the nighttime.
Do you have any suggestions I haven’t included in this list? Have you tried any of the ideas here and found they did or didn’t work?
I’d love to hear how you cope with hot temperatures and what you think helps keep you cool.