What You’re Forgetting When It Comes to Your Sleep
The temperature of your room may be more essential than you may think
Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.
As an athlete, you know how to bring the heat to your training regime. But bring too much (literal) heat to your sleep routine, and you risk sabotaging your sports-specific goals.
“There’s a temperature sweet-spot for optimal sleep and exercise recovery,” says Pete McCall, an exercise physiologist. And slumbering in a room outside of that range may cause your recovery to suffer, he says.
It may also lead to performance issues. One 2020 review published in the International Journal of Sports Medicine found that inadequate sleep can decrease reaction time and accuracy, as well as worsen judgment and decision making. But logging Zzz’s isn’t just important before a long day on the trail, it’s also essential following a day of exercise.
Why Athletes Need Sleep, Explained
When you exercise, you create tiny microscopic tears in your muscle fibers, McCall explains. As concerning as that sounds, the fibers repair themselves while you sleep—and become stronger through the process. Without adequate rest, your recovery is hindered.
One 2023 review published in Current Issues in Sports Science found that a lack of sleep decreases human growth hormone levels. Without the requisite levels of this hormone, which triggers the release of a protein essential for muscle regrowth, the repair process is impeded. Additionally, a 2015 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Directors Association found that testosterone levels, which regulate the rate at which amino acids can do work on the torn muscle fibers, decreased in individuals who experienced sleep disturbances.
How Temperature Impacts Sleep
Temperature is one of the main things that can lead to sleep struggles, says sleep psychologist and the director of sleep health at Sleepopolis Shelby Harris. People typically get the most optimal shut-eye in 60- to 67-degree rooms, she says. If you’re dozing off in a room much cooler than that, you risk impacting your cardiac autonomic response, and if you’re snoozing at a temperature above that, you risk night sweats, wakefulness, and decreased REM. “Rapid eye movement sleep is the stage of sleep when testosterone production is at its highest,” explains McCall. If that stage is hijacked by high temperatures, your athletic recovery will suffer, he says. You’ll also be at an increased risk for injury, chronic stress, and overtraining syndrome. So, how exactly can you avoid that?
How To Regulate Temperature While You Sleep
Twisting your thermostat to the left each evening is the easiest routine when it comes to sleep temperature regulation. However, you may live in an environment, such as an apartment complex with a central temperature control or an older home without air conditioning, where that isn’t possible. These alternative options allow you to ensure you’re able to sleep at the optimal temperature.
1. Open Your Window
Sometimes the simplest trick can be the best one. “Assuming you live somewhere where it gets cooler at night, opening your windows may be all you need to keep yourself from overheating,” says McCall.
2. Turn On a Fan
You may be overlooking another built-in temperature regulator: your ceiling fan. According to the Department of Energy, overhead fans can help rooms feel 4 degrees cooler. If you don’t have a ceiling fan, a well-placed store-bought fan can also do the trick. Plus, a fan can double as a sound machine, helping you drift off easily.
3. Incorporate a Temperature-Regulating Device into Your Routine
Beyond your built-in sleeping aids, a slew of sleep gizmos and gadgets—ranging from cooling sheets and breathable pillows to gel-infused mattress toppers and temperature adjusting mattresses—can help keep you comfortable all night long. “Mattresses and other devices that regulate temperature while you sleep are sound investments,” Chris Winter, a sleep specialist and neurologist, says.
If your partner runs cold, but you don’t, opt for a single-person cooling option, such as the Brooklyn Bedding Luxury Cooling Memory Foam Pillow or Moona Cooling Pillow Pad. The former uses a cool gel infusion and copper to promote greater breathability, while the latter uses water and a heat pump. These and similar products keep your overall body temp down by regulating head and neck temperature.
However, if you sleep alone or you and your partner both find yourselves sweating at night, consider purchasing a mattress cooler like ChiliSleep Sleep System or Eight Sleep Pod Cover, or a temperature-regulating mattress like PerformaSleep or Helix Sleep Midnight Luxe.
It’s important to note that while temperature regulating devices can be great, they need to be paired with other healthy sleep habits in order to be effective, Winter says.
Other Ways to Support Your Recovery While You Sleep
Beyond regulating your sleep temperature, make sure you’re mastering the basics of a solid bedtime routine. Winter recommends strategies such as waking up at the same time every day, limiting exposure to blue light in the evening, and getting sunlight within the first hour of waking.
It’s about more than eliminating those restless nights. With better sleep, you’ll maximize your recovery and performance—be it at the office or on the trail.