Yes, There's an Ideal Temperature for Sleep—and Here's Why It Matters
We've all been there: It's a scorching hot evening and you just can't seem to fall asleep, despite cranking up the air conditioning or turning on a fan (or three). Or maybe it's the middle of winter, bleak and windy, and no matter how many blankets you're under you can't stop tossing and turning in the cold. It should come as no surprise to hear that temperature plays a huge role in how well we sleep.
There's a whole science behind the power of temperature on our sleep quality, quantity, and habits. For a good night's sleep, prioritizing temperature can be a great way to promote healthy sleep habits and get better quality sleep. "Getting a good night's sleep is important for your overall health and well-being," says Ryan Fiorenzi, certified sleep coach. "Most people think of sleep as the time when the body rests, but it's actually a time for the body to rebuild and recover. The best sleep environment is one that's cool."
So what's the key to finding the perfect temperature for your sleep sanctuary? Here's what experts and data have to say about the connection between temperature and sleep, why it matters for our overall health, and how to clock a better night's sleep by paying attention to the temperature.
What is the ideal temperature for sleep?
Temperature for sleep recommendations can vary slightly, but the general rule of thumb is that 65 degrees is the perfect place to set your thermostat for optimal sleep. If you can't keep your home at that temperature, or if 65 degrees is a little too chilly for your personal preferences, board-certified sleep medicine physician Funke Afolabi-Brown, MD, suggests aiming for something in the temperature range of 60 to 72 degrees for the best sleep possible.
Why does temperature matter for sleep?
Setting the temp to somewhere in the 60 to 72 degree range, helps create a just-right environment for sleep by working alongside the patterns of our core body temperature. "This [range] is ideal because variations in our core body temperature, which is regulated by our body's circadian rhythm, drop in the evening and coincide with our brain's melatonin secretion," Dr. Afolabi-Brown explains. "Having a cool room environment further promotes this temperature drop and improves our sleep quality."
As it gets dark, our body begins to produce melatonin, a hormone that plays a large role in sleep regulation. As melatonin is produced, it signals to our brains that it's time for sleep (and vice versa: as melatonin production slows down in the morning, our brains understand it's time to wake up). A cooler sleeping environment actually promotes higher melatonin production, encouraging sleep onset and more restful sleep.
What happens if it's too warm or too cold?
Beyond assisting with melatonin production, temperature is arguably one of the most important factors impacting our sleep. Exposure to heat, or a too-warm sleep environment, can cause increased wakefulness and decreased slow wave sleep and REM sleep, the two deepest stages of sleep that (among other key health functions) help us wake up feeling refreshed. Humid heat, in particular, can throw off sleep stages and thermoregulation, or our body's ability to regulate its temperature. While cold exposure doesn't necessarily affect sleep stages, it's still important to be comfortable during sleep to promote thermoregulation.
"If the room temperature is too hot, our core body temperature rises, leading to discomfort and restlessness," Dr. Afolabi-Brown says. "With this, it's harder to fall asleep, and we're more likely to wake up during the night." Waking up throughout the night, or disrupted sleep, can lead to emotional distress, reduced cognition, and performance issues. If the room temperature is too cold, on the other hand, "it can also cause us to be uncomfortable," she adds, "and this discomfort can impact our sleep quality as well."
How to maintain that perfect sleep temperature
Depending on where within the 60 to 72 range you prefer your space to be, there are different things you can do to help cool down or warm up your sleep environment. Some people enjoy a warmer bedroom and actually sleep well that way. But if you're struggling to sleep in a too-warm or too-cold space, the first thing you should do after setting your thermostat is look at your bedding.
"One of the best ways to help keep yourself cool while you sleep is to invest in some high-quality bedding," Fiorenzi suggests. A smart summer choice is actually a wool comforter, he says, "which has been shown to significantly reduce body heat. Other great options include specialty quilts and sheets designed to wick away moisture and heat. These can help reduce sweat, which can lead to a more comfortable night's sleep." Fiorenzi suggests sleeping with bedding made out of natural materials as well, like bamboo or cotton blends, since they're "naturally cooler."
Dr. Afolabi-Brown says taking a lukewarm bath before bed can also decrease your core body temperature, promoting melatonin production and sleep onset. In addition, she recommends using a fan or air conditioner in the summer, opening your windows to stay cool, or using a space heater in the winter if your room is too cold. Cotton pajamas can also be super helpful in regulating core body temperature, she adds.
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