Science shows that body temperature can have a huge impact on the quality of your sleep and how rested you feel in the morning.
In fact, some studies have found that even small changes to your body’s temperature during sleep can have very significant effects on how deeply you rest.
Here’s the science behind body temperature and sleep, and how to make sure you’re preparing your bedroom so your body can rest well.
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How your body regulates temperature
Our body temperature is actually made up of two parts: our core temperature and our skin temperature. Both of these are controlled by the part of our brain called the hypothalamus.
The hypothalamus works by checking our current temperature and compares it with what the “normal” temperature should be (which unless you have a fever, is 98.6ºF or 37ºC). If anything is off, it will make adjustments to bring it back to normal.
For example, if our temperature is too low, the hypothalamus will tell the body to generate and maintain heat. However, if our current body temperature is too high, it will tell your body to sweat to cool the skin and transfer heat from the core out of the body.
However, when we sleep, this process changes a little bit.
How body temperature affects your sleep
Our normal body temperature isn’t actually a constant 98.6ºF (37ºC), but rather a range that fluctuates during the day on a repeating cycle:
When you’re most active during the day, your body temperature increases slightly. And the opposite happens when you sleep. That’s because even the hypothalamus needs a break from time to time – something it can’t do if your body is too warm or cold.
So if your body can’t stay cool (say because the room is too warm or you have the air conditioning turned up too high), the hypothalamus has to keep working to regulate temperature rather than rest – and you’ll likely wake up feeling less rested than you’d hoped the next morning.
How much of a temperature differential will impact this process? According to one study, it’s not much:
“A mere 0.7ºF increase in skin temperature, whilst not altering core temperature, suppresses nocturnal wakefulness and shifts sleep to deeper stages in young and, especially, in elderly healthy and insomniac participants.”
Further studies have even linked conditions like narcolepsy and insomnia to irregularities in body temperature.
What is the best temperature for a good night’s sleep?
Not everyone’s body runs at exactly the same temperature – it depends on the individual. So what works for one person may not work for the next.
Generally speaking, studies show there is a recommended range for giving your hypothalamus the most chance to take a break, with the optimal temperature around 65ºF (18.3ºC) for most people according to the National Sleep Foundation:
So if you’re having trouble sleeping, try experimenting with the temperature in your room (or your bedding) to find what works best for you.
How much sleep do I need?
For adults aged 18-65, the National Sleep Foundation recommends 7-9 hours of sleep each night to be fully productive – with younger ages needing considerably more sleep than that:
But as with temperature, it ultimately depends on you. Different people can fully function on minimal sleep, where others will need a full nine hours every night.
Three ways to help your body hit its ideal temperature
Our environment is crucial for helping our body hit its ideal sleeping temperature. Here are three tips for setting up your bedroom such that your hypothalamus can take a break (and so that you wake rested in the morning).
Adjust the thermostat to your ideal temperature
If you’re unsure of what temperature you should be sleeping at, start with the recommended 65ºF/18.3ºC. Pay close attention to whether you’re sleeping well and adjust the thermostat accordingly. You may need to experiment a bit to find the ideal temperature for you.
Use proper bedding
The right bedding is a balance between the temperature in your room, and the temperature your body is trying to hit. It will likely take some experimentation to find the right setup once you’ve dialed in the best temperature for your room.
Select the right mattress
In addition to supporting your body properly while you sleep, your mattress choice can have a big impact on the temperature your body sleeps at too. Some mattresses insulate or cool more than others, so find the one that works best for you.
Four high-tech ways to track your sleep quality
As you work to find the optimal temperature for your body to sleep at, you might want a way to track how well you’re actually sleeping. We’re blessed with an incredible array of ways to do this in 2019, thanks to the technology available to us.
Here are four different ways to track your sleep quality with technology:
As with any tech, there are limitations. While most sleep trackers can help you see trends in your sleep, it’s important to note that they “don’t track sleep directly,” according to Dr. Alan Schwartz, director of the Sleep Disorders Center at John Hopkins.
That’s where a medical sleep study may be a better option if you’re looking for a detailed understanding of how you’re sleeping.
Science-backed ways to improve your sleep
Research shows that getting a good night’s rest starts with what you do during the day. Here is a science-backed schedule for resting better each night.