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Why It’s Impossible to Sleep When It’s Hot

In order to get quality sleep, our core body temperature has to fall in line with our circadian rhythm throughout the night. So please, dear God, turn down the thermostat right this very minute

Every summer, I partake in an extremely difficult and exceptionally pointless competition with myself — not turning on the AC for as long as humanly possible. I’ll take cold showers, put bowls of ice in front of fans and even stick my head in a freezer for momentary relief. But because of this self-induced, masochistic challenge to save money on my utility bills, I’m not just losing my sanity — I’m also losing out on precious hours of much-needed sleep, as I find it impossible to get some shut-eye when it’s hot. 

The reason why the heat is robbing me of ZZZs is pretty straightforward. To take a bigger-picture view for a moment, our core body temperature rises throughout the day and starts to fall at night as a biological cue to go to sleep. “During the normal human circadian rhythm, sleep occurs when the core temperature is dropping,” Katherine Hall, a sleep psychologist who specializes in treating insomnia, explains. “This drop in temperature starts about two hours before you go to sleep, coinciding with the release of the sleep hormone melatonin.”

Which brings me directly back to the topic at hand: When our external environment is too hot (read: my apartment), we can’t keep producing enough melatonin to stay asleep. And while it may be tempting to try to offset this with melatonin supplements, those only work to a point, and it’s generally better to get the sleep hormone the natural way.

Unfortunately, there is really no way to get around this other than with temperature control — for instance, other shortcut solutions like cold showers can disrupt your REM cycle and lead to more intense dreams and nightmares. And so, if you want to get a quality night’s sleep, you have to keep your environment cool. More precisely, Hall recommends keeping your bedroom below 75 degrees Fahrenheit, but notes that if you’re waking up sweaty or having hot flashes, that’s a good indication that your bedroom may still be too hot. 

All of which is to say, cold showers, bowls of ice and the freezer aren’t gonna save me — or even cool me down properly. There really is no other choice but to tap out and crank the AC as high as it’ll go. You win, summer.