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Healthy Aging

10 Tricks for Sleeping Like a Baby on a Hot Night

By Sheryl Kraft

Created: 07/19/2011
Last Updated: 07/19/2011

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I remember one August many years ago when my family took our annual summer vacation. August is usually a hot, humid month where we live, so we chose to head north. My husband and I decided that New Hampshire was the perfect place: far enough north to bring relief with some cool, dry weather. It's always cool in New Hampshire, we said. In fact, the hotel we found didn't even have air conditioning—it was simply not necessary. (To me, this was the biggest . I was forever complaining about having to bundle up in sweatshirts and long pants in my house, where come summer, my husband and sons insisted on keeping it like a meat locker.)

We had big plans for our week at the sprawling 8,000-acre resort: we'd kayak, hike, golf, tennis and bike in the cool, green White Mountains. We'd swim in the resort's heated pool when the lake was too chilly. We'd play bocce ball, badminton and horseshoes when we got too tired for anything more strenuous. Who needed a gym when it was all outdoors for the taking? We were determined to make this an active vacation, active enough to fill our need for a big nature fix allow us to indulge with a little less guilt in the hotel's famed three-meal-a-day gourmet fare. My children, 13 and 14 at the time, were game, too, with one exception: they wondered what we'd do at night, since there were no TVs in the rooms.

We filled our suitcases with all the essentials like bug spray, sunscreen, sneakers, hiking boots and heavy socks, a few sweatshirts for the cool evenings. I looked forward to those evenings and fantasized about sitting on the porch, Norman Rockwell–style, gazing out at the lake and colorful flower gardens from the comfort of our cozy wicker rocking chairs, the glow of the night sky made brighter with the delightful sounds of nature. Then we'd head to our rooms and fall into bed, too exhausted to even think about watching the evening news.

One thing we didn't count on for that week, though, was the record-breaking temperature. It was the hottest week in the history of the 200-year-old resort, with temperatures topping unrelenting digits of 100 degrees each day. The heated pool was a nuisance instead of a relief. We were forced to relegate the outdoor activities to early mornings only, before the heat became too oppressive and dangerous for any sort of physical exertion.

Yes, the resort might have had everything you could possibly want except the one thing I desperately craved just that week: air conditioning.

Sleeping was the biggest challenge of all, with the hot air held stagnant and captive in our rooms, seemingly trapped in the old, heavy furnishings. Never before was the night stillness more unwelcome.

Cut to today, this week, when the country is facing a huge heat wave. How do you sleep when it is oppressively hot? Plenty of us don't have air conditioning; or, even if we do, increased demands on electricity could cause a power failure that would easily render it ineffective. And since experts agree that optimal sleeping temperature is between 65 and 68 degrees Fahrenheit, what to do when those desirable temperatures are nothing but a dream?

  • Try to prevent heat from building up by keeping blinds and windows closed to keep the sunlight out. If the temperature outside is hotter than it is inside, keep the windows closed; conversely, at night, when temperatures are likely to be cooler outside, open the windows.
  • Get creative with your sleeping arrangements. Since heat rises, it will be cooler on lower floors; drag a mattress or sleeping bag down to the basement if you can't find relief anywhere else. Or be a houseguest for a few nights if you're lucky enough to have a friend or relative with air conditioning.
  • A shower or bath before bed might help cool your body (the jury is out on what water temperature is best; some people think cool water is best; others swear by hot). Keep your head cool by wetting your hair and going to sleep without drying it.
  • Keep a plant mister filled with ice water by your bedside to cool off your body throughout the night.
  • Wear light PJs or sleep in the nude. Extra layers just make for extra sweat. Or borrow the idea from the women-with-hot-flashes set and wear nightgowns with sweat-wicking fabrics like CoolMax.
  • A fan can help move the air around and create a sensation of cooling. Try this idea from the National Sleep Foundation: place a pan of ice cubes in front of the fan to cool down the air being blown around the room. To ensure airflow, keep your bedroom door open.
  • Keep a frozen washcloth by your bedside; place it on your forehead, around your neck and on the insides of your wrists and arms for some relief. Even a bag of frozen peas will do the trick.
  • Try to avoid getting sunburned; this will make it even harder to sleep in extreme heat.
  • Since cooling your feet can help lower your overall body temperature, soak a pair of cotton socks in ice cold water, wring them out and wear them to sleep.
  • Chill your pillowcase in the freezer (or if you don't have electricity, soak it in cold water, as above).


Excellent ideas, all of which I'll be using since it's hotter than hades here in Michigan. Thankfully, we're just a stone's throw from the beach, so are spending a lot of time in the water.

Lucky you, to be so close to the beach, especially during this kind of heat wave. It's a great way to cool down.

Great tips. We have window ACs but I just hate the noise so I try to do without whenever possible.

I'm with you on the noise factor. I'd rather be hot, at times, than hear the constant buzz of those window ACs.

Lots of good suggestions here. We have been practicing #1 and it really does work during the day. Around 4 pm, I open all the windows. Generally, on Cape Cod, the night temperatures rarely get over 75 and have hovered around 67 this summer so far. I find the shower works to aid with sleeping at night.

That's great sleeping weather. I'd throw open my windows, too, if I had nice ocean breezes coming in!

I've tried the pillowcase in the freezer trick and the cool washcloth. We do have AC but it costs a few hundred dollars a month to run it so we try to balance cost with coolness and don't keep the thermostat quite as my boyfriend would like.

Those high energy bills can be a real deterrent to keeping the AC buzzing. Good thing you have windows to bring in the breeze!

Great suggestions. A fan and a plant mister worked wonders while, as a grad student in San Diego, our apartment had no ventilation and was truly like a bit of an oven!

Oh, yes. No ventilation makes for an oven-like dwelling. Must have been a tad uncomfortable...

Keeping a cool head can be very important for people with migraines and it can also help with sleeping in the heat. One way to do this is to keep small buckwheat/rice/cherry pit pillows or bags in the freezer and bring them out at bed time. Instant cool head!

Thanks for these suggestions, Melanie. I have heard of buckwheat and rice pillow, but not cherry pit pillows. Sounds interesting.

Thanks for these suggestions, Melanie. I have heard of buckwheat and rice pillow, but not cherry pit pillows. Sounds interesting.

Blame it on hormones, but the hot feet thing is driving me batty this summer. Do you think it's possible to have hot flashes, but only in your feet? Hate it.

We're lucky that it doesn't get overly hot at our altitude (about 8,200 feet above sea level). We keep the house closed up all day, then after dinner, when the summer winds shift ... we open a few windows in the house, and the breeze cools things off pretty fast.

Hot flashes in your feet? Well, that's something I've not heard; but I guess anything is possible, right? Just stick 'em in a bowl of ice!

Roxanne, Hot flashes also started in my feet as well. I have them all over now. Wish I only had them in the feet again! Evening Primrose Oil has helped me tremendously.

This all reminds me of the days of my childhood in Ohio--pre AC, when our father would drag our matresses down to the living room, and mother would fix a bowl of ice in water to put in front of the fan.

Thanks goodness, we now have air conditioner in Arizona, and we take it for granted except for those awful times when it fails.

Also, since we have been desert rats for a long time, I'll repeat the mantra--drink lots of water. Not ice cold, just cool.

Yes, water is so important in the heat. Every time I visit Arizona, everyone tells me to drink, even though I don't feel thirsty.

We're lucky to be having a mild (maybe TOO mild) summer. When it gets hot, though, I favor cool, wet washcloths. I can remember my mom giving us those to sleep with, and I do the same for my kids.

I remember having those when I was a kid, too, since we grew up w/out air conditioning. They really helped, but then again, I don't remember suffering too much from the heat when I was younger. I just didn't think about it that much, I guess.

All great suggestions. We have air. I'm like my mother, I could never live without air in this southern Arkansas heat.

I love the idea of putting a pan of ice cubes in front of a fan. I've gotta try that one!

I recently read somewhere about some types of sheets being more "moisture-wicking" than others. I know that cool cotton sheets help me a lot.

That's interesting, Melanie..and makes perfect sense, I guess. Flannel sheets help during the winter, so why not "cooler" sheets in the heat?

We've been lucky here that it has not been hot at night. Actually we live at altitude so nights are usually the most comfortable time of day in the summer!

That IS lucky. There's nothing better than sleeping with windows wide open and a cool breeze coming in.

It's been SO hot this week. Great ideas here. We're headed for a little R&R this weekend I'm hoping the temps will go down at least a little.

I'm hoping you get some cool breezes along with your R&R, Kristen!

I've tried many of these tricks, but it's so bad here that I might just sleep on the tiled basement floor tonight. The cats have the right idea....

I'll bet that cool tile floor will have a warm rug covering it in the winter (which will be here before we know it!)

We rarely, if ever, have nights in the Bay Area that require these kinds of measures. But lots of good advice here to keep your cool on hot summer's nights.

I love the idea of chilling my pillowcase in the freezer. Going to try that.

Let me know how that works out for you, Donna. I'll be curious about it!

I'm glad that I've found your fmxhosting.com/drupal635 site. I don't have much to add to the conversation, but I'm right here with you. This post said exactly what I have been thinking. Good to see you posting.


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