11 ways to sleep better in unbearable heat

No AC? No problem.
person sleeping on the kitchen floor next to open refrigerator door
Sleeping in a heat wave can be nicer than spending the night on the kitchen floor. Diego_Cervo /eposit Photos

Thanks to our changing climate, summer means three months of sticky, humid, scorching heat waves that much of our infrastructure is ill-equipped to handle. And even though it cools off a bit at night, falling asleep under a blanket of unrelenting heat is no easy task. 

If you have an air conditioning unit at home, you may not have a problem at all. But keeping it breezy all night long can be an expensive waste of energy, so you might want to get your bedroom comfortable with as little help from your AC as possible.

Why temperature is important for sleeping  

About two hours before bedtime, our body helps us go to sleep by dropping its temperature below the average 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit. Once we drift into dreamland, it cools another one to two degrees throughout the night so we can reach slow-wave sleep: a deeper stage of slumber that helps us feel fresh and rested in the morning.

[Related: How to stay cool if you lose power during a heatwave]

When it’s grossly hot outside, our body has a harder time getting our core temperature to drop as low as it needs to be, so we struggle to doze off. And even if we manage to fall asleep, we sleep poorly. To comfortably catch those coveted Z’s, try to keep your room temperature between 60 and 67 degrees (15 and 20 degrees Celsius)—or as close as you can with the tools that you have. 

Before bedtime: Get your home ready 

The cooler you keep your home throughout the day, the easier it will be to hit that sleeping sweet spot at night. 

Keep the sunlight and heat out 

Close drapes and windows (especially those not facing north) during the hottest and brightest hours of the day. In the summer, this generally means the hours between 12 and 4:30 p.m., depending on your location and other weather conditions like wind and cloud cover. This will prevent heat from entering and getting trapped in your home. 

Pro tip: Get some high-quality black-out curtains. Some claim to be able to deflect 90 percent more sunlight and heat than regular drapes, but that will depend on a variety of factors, such as color, thickness, and material.

Create a draft and get some help from your appliances

Once the most oppressive hours are over, open doors and windows to get air circulating through your home. This will hopefully push out any heat that made its way inside during the day. 

To get an extra boost, you can turn on the fans around your home (including the ones in your bathroom and above your stove). If you have ceiling fans, set them to rotate counterclockwise to keep hot air up and create a cooling downdraft. 

Avoid generating extra heat

You’re already making a hell of an effort to keep hot air out of your home, so it would be counterproductive to generate more of it inside. Avoid using your oven and stove, and try cooking as many meals as you can with your microwave instead.

[Related: 4 delicious meals you can cook in the office microwave] 

Other appliances shouldn’t be raising the temperature either. Make sure the vents on all your electronics are clean and unobstructed, and if you need to dry some laundry, confirm your machine is not overheating due to lint accumulation.

At bedtime: Keep it cool 

When it’s finally time to go to bed, your efforts throughout the day should have resulted in a cool(er) home. If that’s not enough, you still have some aces up your sleeve that you can play before you turn on the AC. 


When your body is not able to drop its temperature as it usually does at night, it’ll start sweating. In a heat wave, this will mostly happen all night, so you’d better be prepared for it. Drink plenty of liquids before bed and keep some extra on your nightstand to replenish your moisture levels when you need it. 

Forgo the cold shower

You might think that a cold shower before bed would be a perfect way to lower your temperature, but it’s actually counterproductive. Giving your body a chill-shock will redirect blood flow to your core to protect your internal organs, preventing heat loss. But once the cold water stops, your blood will rush to your skin in an attempt to regulate temperature, and you’ll actually feel hotter when you step out of the shower. Add to that the fact that a cold rinse will wake you up, making it harder to fall asleep.  

Go low

Hot air rises, so the higher you are, the hotter it’ll be. If your bedroom is on a second or third floor, try sleeping on the first. 

Opt for moisture-wicking fabrics

When it comes to what you and your bed wear at night during a heat wave, the answer is always natural, breathable fabrics. Cotton, linen, bamboo, and silk are good options, and the less polyester or other synthetic fibers they have, the better. The same goes for your sheets, comforter, and even your mattress cover. 

This kind of textile allows air to circulate more freely, and will prevent excess sweat from pooling on your body. That last point is why wearing light pajamas is actually better than sleeping naked when it comes to staying cool. When you choose your pajamas, go for a loose fit, and make yourself comfortable with a nice, soft fabric. 

Keep the air moving

If the temperature outside is lower than it is in your bedroom, open your windows to let the breeze in and use a fan to maintain circulation. If you have ceiling fans, keep them rotating counterclockwise overnight to pull hot air up and away from you. 

Kick out your pets and partners

Partners and pets are great to have around in the winter, but they’re unnecessary heat sources during hot summer nights. Get rid of them—or at least push them as far away as possible while in bed (please don’t knock them onto the floor). Maybe you and your partner can come to an agreement to set some distance between you for both your sakes, but if you need to kick your pooch out, at least get them a nice cooling pad

[Related: Heat is the silent killer we should all be worried about]

Get some chill

Use a moist rag or a cold compress wrapped in a towel to keep you cool through the night. You can put it on your pulse points (your wrists, groin, the back of your neck, behind your knees, and in the crooks of your elbows) to bring some immediate relief. You can also fill a good ol’ hot water bottle and put it in the freezer so it’s nice and cold for bedtime. Just make sure to close it tight so you don’t wake up in a swamp in the middle of the night. 

Splurge on some cooling tech

If you’ve got the money, you may want to get some gadgets to keep you cool. You can now find mattresses and pillows made with special materials that promise to keep your bed nice and chill so you can sleep your best. And if you have the space for it, you can also get a device like ChiliSleep’s Ooler Sleep system, a gizmo that shoots cold water into a specially designed mattress cover to ensure a good and chilly sleep.