by David Le Blanc
Too Hot to Sleep: The Ultimate Guide to Staying Cool at Night
Are you a hot sleeper, or do you have night sweats? Nothing sabotages sleep more than feeling like a furnace. You toss and turn in hot, sweaty sheets and watch the hours tick by. If you experience this frequently, then you know how elusive refreshing sleep can be. Continued sleep deprivation can be debilitating and compromise your quality of life. Fortunately, solutions exist to help you cool down at night and reclaim rest.
The best approach is to consider all major impacts on your sleep experience. This includes your bedroom environment, the bed itself, and your lifestyle. Sleep product innovations have created cooling bed linens and other solutions to help you find the relief that is right for you and your home. This guide walks you through them.
Hot Sleepers and Night Sweats
Men, women, and children can be hot sleepers. Hot sleepers feel too warm at night irrespective of the bedroom temperature. If you are a hot sleeper, you may struggle to fall asleep or else wake up overheated or drenched in sweat. This makes for restless and unrefreshing sleep, not to mention being tired the next day.
Your bedroom environment and bedding choices greatly affect how comfortable you feel. Bedding made from some synthetic fabrics can trap heat and sweat. Pillows and mattresses can also store body heat. The right cooling bedding will help circulate air, dissipate sweat, and maintain a more even body temperature.
Many people experience frequent and debilitating night sweats, or sleep hyperhidrosis, during sleep. The episodes can be severe enough to drench sheets and prevent rest, leading to daytime fatigue. Night sweats are usually related to medical or physical conditions, among them:
Menopause. Many women experience severe night sweats as part of menopause due to declining estrogen levels. Heat-trapping bedding or a warm bedroom makes the misery worse. While cooling measures won’t stop night sweats, they can help you cool down quickly and promote restful sleep.
Medications. Many medications induce night sweats as a side effect. Common culprits include some prescription antidepressants and drugs to control diabetes. Over-the-counter medications taken to lower fevers can also cause issues.
- Medical conditions. Conditions such as hyperthyroidism and diabetes can cause night sweats. This occurs because the hypothalamus regulates both body temperature and hormone production.
Managing the cause of your night sweats often takes time and medical consultation. Meanwhile, you can make your sleep environment as cool and inviting as possible.
Tips to Keep Your Bedroom Cool
The optimal temperature range for restful sleep is about 65–70 degrees Fahrenheit. If the bedroom is much warmer, you may have trouble falling or staying asleep or not sleep deeply. Keeping your bedroom cool is not always a matter of using air conditioning. Sometimes there is none available as during a heatwave in a normally cool locale, an electrical outage, or when visiting regions without it. Uncooled air may be humid or stagnant, making the heat more oppressive. When you are tossing and turning in a hot room, sleep can seem impossible. Here are some ways to cool it down.
- Plan ahead. During a heatwave, keep the bedroom as cool as possible during the day. Close drapes, blinds, and windows to shield the indoors from the sun and outside air. Blackout curtains block the sun and are widely available.
- If the evening cools off enough, open the windows and run fans to circulate fresh air.
- Run the ceiling fan and any portable fans while you sleep. The breeze will make the room feel cooler. Placing a bowl of ice cubes in front of a portable fan will cool the air while the ice melts, perhaps long enough for you to fall asleep. Try placing a small fan and a bowl of ice on your nightstand for direct relief and larger fans elsewhere in the room to generate cool airflow.
- Minimize electronics in the bedroom as they generate heat. Turn off laptops and other devices that don't need to be on while you sleep.
- If your locale seems to be warming up compared to previous years, it might be time to consider investing in central air conditioning. A cheaper option is to install a room air conditioner for your bedroom. If power outages are an issue, consider a home generator. These are common in regions with volatile weather and are reliable and easy to operate once installed.
How to Make Your Bed a Cool Oasis
A heat-trapping bed can keep you uncomfortably awake even in a cool room. The best way to maintain your bed at the right temperature is to choose bedding designed for hot sleepers. The best cooling bed sheets are breathable, absorbent, and wick moisture away from your body. Good choices include cotton, bamboo, and Tencel sheets.
Don’t overlook your small but mighty pillow. Your brain generates a lot of heat, and the right pillow can help it dissipate while you sleep. Large pillows trap heat and are better swapped for more compact ones. These often contain cooling gel, ventilated foam, or latex and have breathable covers.
If you have a memory foam mattress, it may be trapping body heat. Most other types of mattresses allow more air circulation. If it isn’t practical to swap out your heat-loving mattress, upgrading your bedding will go a long way toward comfort. In addition to cooling bed linens, try a cooling mattress topper to direct heat away from the bed.
Hot air rises. If your bed is raised high, lowering it even a foot or two can cool it down. Similarly, switching from loft and bunk beds to traditional-height alternatives can provide some relief.
Fabric Choices for Cooling Sleep
Several fabrics stand out for their cooling properties. Cotton is the ubiquitous natural fiber used in bedding and sleepwear. Tencel and bamboo are modern fabrics derived from wood that is technologically processed to produce strong and versatile fiber.
Cotton and bamboo fabrics are often compared although bamboo is more properly considered a semi-synthetic fabric. Both cotton and bamboo are breathable and absorbent, though they each vary in quality and production. Higher quality fabrics are more cooling, softer, and more durable without excessive pilling or fading. Cotton tends to shrink and wrinkle more while bamboo is often more expensive. Both fabrics have eco-friendly options though the majority is produced using less sustainable methods.
Tencel, the well-known brand name for lyocell fabric, is produced from eucalyptus trees. It is known for its moisture-wicking and temperature regulating properties as well as softness and durability. Its production process is eco-friendly and uses fewer natural resources than most cotton and bamboo production.
Bamboo fabric is a semi-synthetic fabric processed from bamboo fibers. The tree's leaves and inner core are crushed and soaked in an enzyme solution that further breaks down the plant tissue. The product is then spun into fibers that can be woven into cloth.
Several different methods are used to create bamboo fabric of varying quality and eco-friendliness. The most common and inexpensive product is bamboo viscose, which is produced using complex methods that involve toxic chemicals. Bamboo cellulose is chemically altered and processed to ultimately produce fiber. Byproducts are minimally recycled, and the waste also contains the toxicant carbon disulfide.
Organic bamboo fabric is produced using a more sustainable process in which fiber is created from cellulose using closed-loop manufacturing that recycles solvents and byproducts. The bamboo remains chemically intact.
Bamboo linen is a fabric produced using a mechanical process that does not involve cellulose. Instead, wood fibers are crushed and soaked in an enzyme solution and spun into fibers. This method is eco-friendly and produces the highest quality fabric. Most bamboo textiles are made with chemically processed bamboo, so shop carefully to find organic bamboo or bamboo linen.
Bamboo fabric is strong and breathable. Lower-quality versions pill easily and can feel rough. Better quality fabric is lightweight and soft. Bamboo has a reputation for being antibacterial, but only the plant has this attribute. Bamboo’s hygienic properties are due to its excellent breathability and absorption.
What Is Tencel?
You may have noticed bedding and sleepwear made from a fabric called Tencel. What is Tencel? Tencel is a brand name for lyocell, a fiber increasingly used for apparel and home textiles. Tencel sheets are ideal for hot sleepers as they are highly breathable and moisture-wicking. Those with sensitive skin may find them more hypoallergenic than other options such as polyester or resin-treated cotton.
What Is Lyocell?
Lyocell is a fiber made from the wood cellulose pulp of eucalyptus trees. The pulp is processed and spun into fibers that create an exceptionally durable and silky fabric. The eucalyptus trees are usually renewably sourced.
You may be wondering if this newer fabric is an effective and eco-friendly choice to help you stay cool. What is lyocell, exactly? Lyocell is a type of regenerated cellulose fiber similar to viscose rayon and acetate. The cellulose from eucalyptus trees is highly processed into fiber using a closed-loop production process that sustainably recycles almost all solvents and byproducts. The resulting fiber is hypoallergenic and chemical-free.
Tencel, or eucalyptus lyocell, is sustainably produced. Its process requires up to 20 times less water than cotton production, less fertile land, and less energy. It generates little waste as most agents are recycled back into the system. Tencel requires much less dye than cotton while still creating vibrant and long-lasting colors.
Tencel fabric feels soft and smooth and is kinder to sensitive skin than rougher or chemically treated fabrics. The fibers are hydrophilic and wick moisture from the skin, making Tencel an excellent choice for cooling sheets. It is also highly breathable, moisture-wicking, and more absorbent than cotton. Tencel sheets are easy-care, hold their shape, and wear well.
Cotton is a bedding staple for good reason as it is breathable, economical, and long-lasting. Cotton fabric varies widely in quality and characteristics. It can have short or long fibers, called staple length, and different thread counts and weaves. The three main types of cotton are Egyptian, Pima, and American Upland, which is the most common. Pima and Egyptian cotton are premium, long-staple options that are soft and durable.
Thread count affects softness, durability, and suitability for hot sleepers. Fabrics with medium to high thread counts between 300–500 are optimal. A lower thread count produces a rougher and less durable fabric while the highest thread counts don’t allow ventilation.
Popular cotton weaves for bedding include percale and sateen. Percale is a tight weave used for smooth and durable bedding that softens with washing. Sateen produces a silky finish that retains heat and is better for cold than hot sleep conditions.
Linen and silk are luxurious choices that may be suitable for mild heat issues. Severe night sweating or children’s bedding is better served by more robust fabrics. Linen is cool and breathable due to its looser weave. However, it wrinkles easily and needs care that may make it impractical for daily use, especially for hot sleepers. Silk is lightweight and cool but likewise takes special care to last.
Many cotton products are treated with resin to resist staining and wrinkling. The resin coating releases formaldehyde, a known irritant and likely carcinogen. Organic cotton bedding is a chemical-free alternative.
Cool Down Using Fabrics
Do you need heat relief now? An effective approach is to use cooling fabrics for your bedding and sleepwear. The best cooling sheets for your situation will help you feel drier and more comfortable all night long. The best sheets for night sweats will be breathable, absorbent, and wick away moisture. Cooling pillows and mattress toppers also help dissipate heat. Pajamas made from lightweight and breathable fabric are a must.
Find Your Perfect Cooling Sheets
Whether combating night sweats or summer heat, cooling sheets are one of your best defenses. If your sheets don’t breathe or absorb moisture, you will feel hot and sticky. The best cooling sheets help regulate body temperature throughout the night. Fabric options for cooling bed sheets include synthetic, bamboo, cotton, and Tencel.
Hot sleepers have different needs. If you are facing dry weather or light sweating, you have several viable options for cooling bed sheets. If you are contending with night sweats or humid conditions, you need maximum protection. The best sheets for night sweats are eucalyptus bed sheets such as Tencel that are highly absorbent and actively wick moisture off the skin. These fabrics pull sweat and humidity away from your body and absorb what’s left so that you cool down more quickly and feel drier.
Types of Cooling SheetsCooling bed linens are breathable and usually effective at moisture-wicking, absorbency, or both:
Breathable. These fabrics provide good ventilation, reducing sweat and moist air build-up.
Moisture-wicking. These options pull moisture away from your skin and the contact side of the sheet so that you stay drier. They function similarly to moisture-wicking activewear.
- Absorbent. These sheets absorb moisture and are good choices for night sweats or high humidity.
In addition to performance, the best sheets are gentle on skin, durable, and easy to care for:
Hypoallergenic. Some bedding is treated with chemicals to improve performance. Some fabrics have a grainy texture or snag easily. If you or family members have sensitive skin, consider sheets that are smooth and chemical-free.
Durable. Quality sheets are an investment. Your sheet sets should wear well and hold their color through repeated laundering. If you or your partner are experiencing night sweats, you will likely be changing bedding frequently.
- Easy care. You have better things to do than pamper your bedding. Sheets should stay soft, smooth, and relatively wrinkle-free without special laundering or excessive ironing.
Bed linens made from synthetic microfiber may appeal at first glance because they are soft, lightweight, and available in many colors. Microfiber is composed of ultra-thin fibers produced from plastic-based nylon or polyester. Most formulations are not breathable enough to benefit hot sleepers, although the sheets dry quickly and are somewhat absorbent. Durability varies with quality.
Another drawback to microfiber is an environmentally harmful production process. The fabric also sheds copious amounts of tiny fibers that are implicated in the widespread plastics contamination of oceans and sea life.
Cotton sheets are a classic option available in a range of thread counts and quality. Egyptian and Pima cotton are cooling and supple while lower grades feel grainier. Cotton wears well although colors can fade with repeated laundering. Cotton famously wrinkles, but the traditional fabric is a safer choice than wrinkle-resistant cotton bedding treated with resin.
Cotton is breathable but not as absorbent as bamboo or eucalyptus sheets. It does not wick away moisture and so is not preferred for night sweats or humidity.
Bamboo sheets are more absorbent and moisture-wicking than cotton though less so than eucalyptus bed sheets. They feel cooler and are more hypoallergenic than natural fabrics. Bamboo linen is cooling but not very soft. It is also prone to wrinkling and needs to be gently cared for and ironed to look its best. Lower grades of bamboo fabric are widely available though less eco-friendly.
Eucalyptus bed sheets made from lyocell are highly breathable and wick moisture to keep you cool and dry. They are a cost-effective alternative to seasonal sheets as they provide warmth in colder weather for year-round comfort. Eucalyptus sheets promote a healthier sleep environment because they dry 30 percent faster than cotton or polyester. Lyocell sheets are also inhospitable to dust mites and other allergens and are chemical-free. This bedding, such as the PerfectSleep cooling sheet set by Olive + Crate, is durable and silky soft. It resists wrinkling and remains colorfast.
Cooling Pillow Cases
Does your upper body feel too warm at night, but you can’t bear to part with your favorite pillow? One of the best ways to cool your entire body is to cool your head, as our brains generate enormous heat. Replacing your standard pillow case with a cooling pillow cover is an easy way to find relief. The right pillow cover will wick away moisture and help dissipate heat from your head and upper body. Pillow cases should be given the same consideration as other cooling linens such as lyocell sheets. More than just a pillow covering, they provide you with:
Portable comfort. A cooling pillow cover can travel with you. It is also easy to purchase more pillow cases for guests or as your household grows.
Hypoallergenic rest. One of the best ways to protect delicate skin and sinuses is to ensure your cooling pillow case is as hypoallergenic as possible.
- Protective fabric. Fabric that is rough or prone to static cling can irritate sensitive facial skin and even exacerbate wrinkling. It can also cause hair breakage as you sleep.
You have several options when selecting a cooling pillow case. The first consideration is fabric for its cooling properties and feel on delicate facial skin. Synthetic microfiber fabrics trap body heat, so choose options such as Tencel or bamboo. Fabric feel is also important to comfort.
Cotton. Cotton pillow cases are breathable but not moisture wicking, which means you may still feel damp. Cotton will absorb a certain amount of sweat and other moisture but will saturate more quickly than bamboo or Tencel. Night sweats or humidity that leave your hair and the back of your neck wet may be better alleviated with a lyocell fabric. Also, cotton’s looser weave can trap dust mites and other allergens near your sinuses.
Silk. The silk pillow case is a luxurious option favored for smoothness that is gentle on your skin and hair. Skincare products don’t transfer as easily to silk as to some fibers. Silk fabric feels cool on the skin and is breathable.
Bamboo. Bamboo fabric performance lies between cotton and Tencel in several ways. It wicks away moisture better than cotton and not as well as Tencel. It wrinkles less than cotton but more so than Tencel. Most bamboo fabric production is not as environmentally friendly as the eucalyptus fabric process.
- Tencel. Tencel, or eucalyptus fabric, is breathable, moisture wicking, and temperature regulating. This makes it suitable for both hot and cold sleepers and for all seasons. The fabric feels smooth and cool and is hypoallergenic. These pillow cases, such as PerfectSleep by Olive + Crate, are long-wearing and resist pilling and shrinkage. Colors stay bright, so you can include them as part of your bedroom décor with confidence.
Other considerations are durability and ease of care. Your pillow cases should be machine washable and retain their softness and color. There should be minimal shrinkage and pilling. After all, they are an intimate part of your life for 8 hours every night.
Using a comforter when you are a hot sleeper may sound contradictory, but you can suffer from excessive heat and night sweats even in cool weather. You may fall asleep under cozy blankets in winter weather only to wake up miserably hot or sweaty hours later. Rather than sacrificing your comforter, consider a cooling version to enjoy no matter the weather.
Cooling comforters and duvets are lighter weight while still being cozy. The best options are made with fabric that is breathable and moisture-wicking such as Tencel or merino wool. Some cooling comforters are composed of newer synthetic fabrics engineered to release body heat or prevent sweat buildup. Fabric made with 37.5 technology uses embedded particles to trap vapor and equalize temperature. Outlast fabric uses phase-change technology that stores and releases heat to regulate body temperature. These options are not as eco-friendly as Tencel or sustainable bamboo.
If you favor real down fill, keep in mind that down fill traps and heats air. The fill power is a rating that indicates how fully filled and therefore warming a comforter is. Summer-weight comforters will have a fill power rating of 600 or less. A lighter fill or a product constructed to avoid hot or cold air pockets will help you stay evenly cool. Lightweight comforters often use down alternatives, which are ideal for people with feather allergies.
Nothing ruins a good sleep like waking up too warm with your pajamas clinging to your body like steaming towels. Cooling pajamas are a must if you suffer from night sweats. Fabrics such as nylon and polyester, popular choices in sleepwear, trap moisture and body heat. The right sleepwear will be breathable, moisture-wicking, and absorbent. It should also feel comfortably lightweight and fit loosely. Cooling options include Tencel, bamboo, and silk.
Cooling Gel Pillows
The best cooling pillow is one that will keep you comfortable throughout a full night’s sleep. Our heads generate heat, and long hair or heat-trapping pillows make it worse. Cooling gel pillows go beyond fabric to offer a solution that helps the body regulate temperature. Not all gel pillows are designed to keep the sleeper cool, so make sure you choose one made for that purpose.
Some cooling pillows have layers of gel near the surface, and others are filled with foam that contains gel. The pillows with gel layers contour to your head and neck and hold their shape well. They feel a bit heavier and firmer than foam pillows. Pillows with gel foam tend to be softer and more malleable. You can more easily adjust the loft, which is the pillow’s height as it lies flat on the bed. As with standard pillows, keep in mind whether you prefer a soft, medium, or firm option to find the best cooling pillow for your needs.
Another consideration is the fabric covering the pillow. To fully leverage the cooling gel construction, look for a breathable, hypoallergenic cover. Fabrics that offer these properties include Tencel and bamboo. The right cover will make a noticeable difference in your cooling pillow’s effectiveness.
Cooling Mattress Toppers
The best cooling mattress toppers can effectively cool your bed without the need to invest in a new mattress. Not all mattress toppers will keep hot sleepers comfortable, and material and construction determine which are cooling.
The cooling gel mattress topper is a good option because it absorbs heat slowly, so you stay cooler longer. Some gels are infused with materials that increase heat conduction to rapidly transfer heat away from your body. These include copper, graphite, and newer phase-change materials that retain and release heat to help maintain temperature equilibrium.
The cooling memory foam mattress topper can be a good option if chosen carefully. Traditional memory foam, while comfortable, retains heat. Newer options have emerged that incorporate gel and other materials to better conduct heat away from the sleeper. Some products infuse these materials into the foam and others layer them with foam. The result melds the cradling comfort of memory foam with the cooling power of gel.
Power Down the Heat
Sometimes optimizing bedding and room temperature is not enough to prevent night sweats. Technology comes to the rescue with true climate control that lets you adjust the cooling power of mattress pads, pillow pads, and mattresses. Some products inject cool air into your bedding for programmable rapid cooling and temperature maintenance. This can be ideal when partners share a bed and have different cooling needs.
The drawback is that a power outage means you lose your cooling technology and have to rely on old-fashioned means to get comfortable. Also, consider the required maintenance and potential for breakage that any equipment has.
Tech Mattress Toppers
A powered cooling mattress topper creates an even temperature foundation, reducing hot and cold spots under your body. Some products run temperature-regulated water through tubes embedded in the pad much as an electric blanket heats wire. Power units typically fit under the bed and run quietly enough to act as white noise and not disturb sleep. Options include dual zones for larger beds so that you and a partner can set individual preferences.
Cooling mattress toppers can help you save on your electric bill by controlling temperature and humidity around your bed. This means you can set your thermostat to a higher temperature and still enjoy cool sleep. For example, if you normally set your thermostat at 70 degrees Fahrenheit at night, you might set it at 77.
Our heads generate enough heat to warrant extra cooling support. Pillow pads are smaller powered versions of thin mattress pads that you place under your pillow to regulate temperature. This is especially helpful if you have night sweats as cooling your head will more rapidly cool your body.
If your mattress is due for replacement, you may decide to go all out on its cooling capabilities. Thanks to technology, you can have a climate-controlled mattress. An example implementation runs temperature-controlled water through tubules in the mattress’s outer casing. Biometric and environmental sensors track room temperature, humidity, and your sleep cycle. The system adjusts the mattress temperature accordingly to maintain your chosen setting. Each side of the bed is individually controlled so that partners can customize their environments. This technology is pricey but might be worth considering for hot sleepers already planning to upgrade to a high-end mattress.
Even if technologically enhanced, mattress construction still matters with regard to cooling. Conventional memory foam mattresses trap heat and are more suited for maintaining warmth. Latex, gel, and innerspring mattresses allow more airflow. Some products combine the comfort and cooling properties of two or more materials to make a more economical and lighter-weight option. Latex, in particular, is more cost-effective when used in a hybrid mattress.
Other Sleep Hacks to Stay Cool
Smart sleep preparation begins with your daytime activities. Once bedtime approaches, some resourcefulness may be required to keep you cool.
Make sure your lifestyle lets you unwind near bedtime:
- Avoid too much sun exposure as this will make you feel warmer and dehydrated at night.
- Avoid exercising too close to bedtime as this will raise your body temperature.
- Avoid caffeine within 6 hours of bedtime as it is a stimulant and can make you feel warm.
- Limit alcohol as it is dehydrating and can interfere with deep sleep.
- Eat small meals later in the day. A large dinner can bring on heat or nighttime digestive issues.
Try these bedtime hacks in a heated pinch:
- Take a cool bath or shower to help you chill enough to fall asleep. Leave your hair wet for good measure. Some people find warm showers helpful, but this can increase humidity.
- Cool your hands, feet, forehead, or back of the neck to help you drift off. You can use an ice pack, a frozen damp washcloth, or even a bag of frozen fruit. Try icing your feet in a bowl of cold water or wearing refrigerated socks. Chilling the body’s pulse points can rapidly make you feel cooler. Place cold washcloths on your neck, elbows, wrists, and backs of knees.
- For an old-fashioned but effective method, wring out a wet sheet or large towel and place it over your body. Alternatively, hang it in front of a fan to create a damp breeze. If the temperature outside has dropped enough to be pleasant, you can hang the towel in front of an open window.
- If the heat catches you by surprise, try cooling your pillowcase and even bedsheet in the freezer, using a plastic bag to keep them from getting damp.
The best place to start reclaiming your nights is your bed. Consider cooling bedding, pillows, and mattress toppers. The simplest and most versatile change is to switch to cooling sheets and cooling pillow covers. For example, lyocell sheets adjust to temperature and can be used year-round. If your mattress is due for replacement, choose one with good ventilation. With some planning and resourcefulness, you can find the cooling sleep solution that is just right for you.