The importance of healthy, consistent sleep patterns cannot be understated. Every animal in the world with a complex enough brain and nervous system requires sleep. While the full explanation for why sleep is necessary isn’t clear yet, scientists have determined that sleep plays a pivotal role in the overall growth of the body, the regeneration of damaged tissue and cells, the regulation of the immune system, and memory processing and consolidation, among others. There are many factors that can interfere with a healthy night’s sleep, including:
- Excessive noise
- Excessive light
- The consumption of drugs, alcohol, and certain foods
- A variety of sleep disorders such as insomnia, night terrors, restless leg syndrome, teeth grinding, sleepwalking, and sleep apnea
- Extremes in temperature
Too Hot or too Cold
Though individual preferences may vary, there does appear to be an optimal temperature for most people to fall asleep to. When there are extreme variations from this temperature, there are several results:
- It takes people longer to fall asleep. Unless they experience insomnia or other sleep disorders, people who are drowsy at the end of the night will usually fall asleep within a matter of minutes to an hour. When it’s excessively hot or cold, this process can take up to several hours.
- Once people fall asleep, they don’t sleep as soundly. They will most likely awaken several times throughout the night and find it difficult to fall back asleep once they do so.
- They will not go into the deepest stages of sleep and will dream less or not at all.
The physiological effects of sleep disruption include a lowered immune system, general muscle aches and fatigue, irritability, and reduced attention spans. Long term sleep deprivation can lead to rapid weight loss or gain, depression, chronic headaches, hallucinations, and even dementia. For these reasons, it’s important that people sleep at as close to optimal temperature as possible.
Optimal Temperature for Sleep
Studies have shown that the optimal temperature for healthy sleep is quite low, ranging from 60 to 72 degrees Fahrenheit. Some researchers split the difference and say 66 degrees, although they recognize that individual physiology and preferences are significant factors. The reason that this temperature range is optimal is that it allows the core body temperature to drop, which is a necessary precursor for healthy sleep. When it’s too hot, the body’s core temperature remains high on its own. When it’s too cold, the body constricts blood vessels in the extremities to keep heat at the body’s core – a mechanism to prevent hypothermia. Only in the optimal temperature range will blood vessels in the extremities dilate, pulling heat from the boy’s core to the hands, feet, and head. This is why people who have cold hands and/or feet often find it difficult to fall asleep.
Tips for Falling Asleep when It’s too Hot
- Regulate the temperature in your home as much as you can. Keep blinds and windows closed in the daytime to prevent heat build-up.
- If you don’t have an air conditioner, consider using a rotating fan to circulate air in the bedroom.
- Take a cool shower before going to bed and let your hair remain wet.
- Sleep in light and minimal clothing.