Help me regulate my sleep thermostat!
December 6, 2014 8:09 AM   Subscribe

Winter brings sleeping woes... I am typically very cold natured, except in the middle of the night. I am FREEZING when I go to bed, necessitating long-sleeved/long-pants PJs and a down comforter to get warm enough to sleep - but then I wake up drenched in sweat and radiating heat. Why do I seemingly only produce body heat in the middle of the night, and how can I fall asleep comfortably but also stay comfortable in the middle of the night?

I have tried all manner of things to warm up BEFORE I get in the bed - sitting in front of a space heater, wearing wool socks and down booties, wearing multiple layers of clothes (and taking most off before getting in bed), turning the house thermostat up (but turning it back down before bed), hot showers, etc. But I am still freezing when I get in bed... to the point that I can't comfortably fall asleep. I will take off wool socks and down booties and still get in bed with numb toes. I can fall asleep on in light-weight PJs (like shorts and a t-shirt) IF I have a blanket and down comforter on, and my husband's feet to warm up my side of the bed.

The problem is that I wake up (sometimes in the middle of the night, or when my alarm goes off in the morning), drenched in sweat, lying on damp sheets, and generally feeling hot, uncomfortable, and gross. If I wake up in the middle of the night, I have a hard time going back to sleep, because if I take off extra clothes or blankets, the sweat starts to make me cold again.

We already turn the heat down to frigid levels (58 or lower) when we go to bed. The ambient air temperature is not the problem.

In short: I need warm clothes and a down comforter to fall asleep, but these things make me miserable in the middle of the night. Why do I get so hot in the middle of the night (when I'm usually cold all of my waking hours), and are there ways to get warm as I'm falling asleep that WON'T keep me too warm throughout the night?
posted by raspberrE to Health & Fitness (35 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Electric blanket on a timer?
posted by ananci at 8:18 AM on December 6, 2014 [6 favorites]

Best answer: Electric blanket. Crank it fifteen minutes before you climb into bed. Get into bed and turn it off.
They make dual-zone blankets so you won't cook your husband.

I get the same thing when I don't eat right, or when I'm dehydrated.
posted by notsnot at 8:18 AM on December 6, 2014 [5 favorites]

I'm the same. I use an electric matress topper thing on a timer, or a hot water bottle.
posted by peanut butter milkshake at 8:30 AM on December 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

Hot water bottles are also great for getting warm when you get in bed. And of course, they cool down over the night so won't make you hotter later.

Another question, what kind of sheets do you use? I love flannel for feeling warm right after getting in bed. Flannel sheets also seem to allow me to sleep with fewer blankets so I don't get over heated later.
posted by hydrobatidae at 8:31 AM on December 6, 2014

Hot water bottle or an electric blanket to pre-warm the bed. Both the bottle and the blanket (if turned off when you get into bed) will cool as your body warms the bedclothes and you should be comfortable.
posted by DarlingBri at 8:57 AM on December 6, 2014

How old are you? I started noticing peri-menopause symptoms at age 38. Also, I experienced some of the same symptoms when my thyroid quit working. You might want to explore both of these possibilities with your doctor.
posted by summerstorm at 8:57 AM on December 6, 2014 [4 favorites]

In addition to a hot water bottle, I find it also helps if I leave an arm above the comforter as a heat sink, or at least don't pull the comforter all the way up to my chin.
posted by momus_window at 9:09 AM on December 6, 2014

Best answer: Electric mattress pad/topper is miles better than an electric blanket because it's not on top of you insulating you when you get to the point where you're trying to cool off.
posted by anaelith at 9:13 AM on December 6, 2014 [3 favorites]

The only thing that warms me when I'm cold like that is a shower. Take a hot shower before bed. Get into bed dressed in non-crazy-wool-everything and still be comfortable.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 9:15 AM on December 6, 2014 [3 favorites]

I don't think this will solve the entire issue (I think getting a check-up for your hormones/thyroid is in order), but you might like a wool-filled duvet instead of down. I've been very happy since switching to them and will never go back to down or poly fill duvets. The wool is warm but won't let you get sweaty like that. I run cold and the wool is warm for me, but not too warm for warmer sleepers, in a word, perfect. You might like some soft, washable wool pj's too.
posted by lafemma at 9:22 AM on December 6, 2014

Nthing electric blanket! I suffer from this condition too (though I have not seen a doctor..haha) and I turn my blanket way up before I go to bed, and turn it off when I get in. Makes for a nice warm bed, but none of the middle-of-the-night nastiness.
posted by masquesoporfavor at 9:26 AM on December 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

I asked a very similar question awhile back. In the winter, cotton pajamas + flannel sheets + bamboo blanket + non-down comforter works for me. Down comforters and fleece/flannel pajamas are too warm. I used to have a heated mattress pad and I agree with those who are suggesting it.

If you do wake up sweaty in the middle of the night, change your pajamas and put a large towel underneath you if you don't want to change the sheets.
posted by desjardins at 9:33 AM on December 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

Why do I seemingly only produce body heat in the middle of the night

I strongly doubt that there are huge differences between the amount of heat your metabolism produces during the night compared to any other time. Seems to me that what you're experiencing is mostly just physics.

The way bed clothes and covers keep you warm is by preventing heat from escaping through themselves; they are not themselves sources of heat.

When you first climb into bed, the air under the covers and trapped inside the covers themselves is all quite cold, and it takes a while for heat escaping from your body to warm all that up. While it's doing that, you'll feel cold. And this is true whether you've got one down comforter over the top of you, or ten.

After a while, your body warms up the bed enough to be comfortable, and you fall asleep. But if you've got enough covers on that your body can warm the bed quickly, they're probably insulative enough that your body will keep on warming the bed after you're asleep - eventually reaching temperatures that make your body's own cooling system kick in. But that cooling system relies on evaporation, and under thick covers the air around your body rapidly becomes saturated with water vapor and evaporation stops working well. At this point you start getting seriously damp.

how can I fall asleep comfortably but also stay comfortable in the middle of the night?

So to fix this, you need to do a couple of things. First is to reduce the amount of covers you're using, so that your sleeping body won't overheat your bed.

This will mean that your bed won't warm up anywhere near as quickly when you first get in, because more of the heat coming from your body will be escaping through the covers; this effect will be even more pronounced if you're wearing long pyjamas, because these will slow the outward flow of heat from your body into the bed. To compensate for that, preheat the bed for a while before getting in it.

You can do that with hot water bottles or an electric blanket; personally I prefer the hot water bottle option, because after you've got into the bed you can shove it down to the foot end to make your feet warmer, and stop them getting stuck in the "oh oh cold cold must keep warming circulation cut off to protect rest of body" state.

Don't get in the bed until you can feel some warmth from the hot water bottle outside the covers. And if you never can, your covers are still too thick.
posted by flabdablet at 10:08 AM on December 6, 2014 [6 favorites]

Along the lines of the hot water bottle, a flannel pillow filled with 3-5 lbs of rice that you heat in the microwave for 5-6 minutes is nice. It stays hot for a while (and will definitely warm up your toes) but then it will cool down.

Super easy to make if you have access to a sewing machine. I made one by cutting off 9 inches or so from an old pair of jeans and then sewing the open ends together. (But flannel would be nicer.)
posted by leahwrenn at 10:09 AM on December 6, 2014 [2 favorites]

Another vote for a rice bag, which is smushier than a water bottle and doesn't leak. Mine usually starts out at my feet, and once my toes are toasty, I move it up to my chest and snuggle it.
posted by ceiba at 10:13 AM on December 6, 2014

I have tried all manner of things to warm up BEFORE I get in the bed

Again, the main problem is not the temperature of you before you get in the bed, but the temperature of the bed. Your body won't actually let you overheat it much if you give its cooling system a chance to work, so the amount of extra heat you can carry into the bed with you is quite limited. You'll get far better results by preheating the bed than preheating the occupant.
posted by flabdablet at 10:15 AM on December 6, 2014 [3 favorites]

Forgive me if this seems an obvious solution, but have you tried taking a hot shower or bath before bed? This will get you all warm and then your body will cool off.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 10:17 AM on December 6, 2014

Have sex with your husband before going to sleep.

Run a fan to allow air to circulate all night long.

Have your doctor check you for anemia. I have night sweats when my iron level is low.

Have you tried eating a piece or chocolate before going to bed? It's supposed to do something with the blood vessels. My son's scout leader would give them all a piece of chocolate before sending them to their tents on winter camp outs.
posted by myselfasme at 10:22 AM on December 6, 2014

I have really similar issues and I suspect some of my medications contribute to my night sweats. I've had my hormones tested twice in the past 1.5 years, actually, partly because I thought this might be hot flashes. It's not peri-menopause for me, though.

I've used a heating pad to warm up my foot area before getting and bed and the most helpful thing for me is wearing a tank top rather than pjs with a collar, and getting my hair up off my neck. I also try to keep the covers rolled down across my shoulders. Keeping my neck cool really helps.
posted by Squeak Attack at 10:54 AM on December 6, 2014

Wool mattress pad and maybe wool comforter, instead of down - wool products allow much better airflow than many others, so they will insulate heat when you're cooler, but also vent it when you're hot.
posted by modernhypatia at 11:20 AM on December 6, 2014

ananci has it. I have one of these, and I can set it for a low heat, right up to a blast of heat, and to stay on for an hour or for 6 hours. I like mine on the lowest setting all night, but you might prefer it on the highest for a short time and then have it turn itself off while you sleep.
posted by Solomon at 11:48 AM on December 6, 2014

I solved a similar problem with a heating pad. Any modern heating pad will have a timer that turns off in an hour or so. I'd turn it on while I got ready for bed, crawl into a warm bed, turn it off and back on, and it would keep me warm until I dropped off to sleep.
posted by BrashTech at 3:03 PM on December 6, 2014

I had a similar problem - I would be fine temperature-wise going to bed, but I'd wake up in the middle of the night so hot and sweaty that I'd kick the covers off; then I'd freeze and have to pull them up again. Rinse, repeat. It turned out that I had sleep apnea. When I got a CPAP, I no longer woke up feeling hot and sweaty.

Ask your husband if he hears you snore, gasp, or stop breathing in your sleep. If you do, and/or your sleep is unrefreshing, get a sleep test.

Other than that, nthing the suggestions for a wool mattress pad and covers that are breathable. Better air circulation might help.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 3:31 PM on December 6, 2014

Response by poster: Thanks all, for the answers so far. I have briefly thought about an electric mattress pad/warmer, but worried that the residual heat would make the problem worse - but it sounds like, combined with lighter weight covers, the heat should dissipate as I sleep.

I don't THINK I have apnea, and I'm certainly too young for peri-menopauase, but I might look into have my thyroid and iron levels checked. My body temperature runs super low (96-97 degrees, even when I feel sick and feverish) so perhaps there is something wacky going on.

Further question: I LOVE switching to the down duvet when the weather cools off because I love the weight of it...the cocoon-y feeling is lovely. Do wool duvets have the same weight? If not, is there a way to get that heavy weight without the heat-trapping of down?
posted by raspberrE at 4:01 PM on December 6, 2014

Ooh,I recently solved this problem. I switched all my pajamas for sports clothes made of wicking fabric. Buy in several sizes larger than you would for sports. Problem solved.
posted by lollusc at 4:18 PM on December 6, 2014

You've already marked a best answer but I wanted to chime in to say, if you are already cold before you go to bed, you are better off taking a hot shower just before bedtime as mentioned upthread. The residual glow will help you fall asleep.

If you don't want to invest in an electric blanket or mattress pad, a small heating pad or hot water bottle that can be moved around/shut off later.

And despite it being counter-intuitive, sleeping in the raw will warm up the surrounding under-duvet space a lot faster than if you are wearing pajamas which trap your body heat.

There are different duvet temperature weights, see the IKEA catalog for descriptions. I've also used a cotton open-weave blanket (heavy) underneath one of the lighter-weight duvets to trap the heat.

Source: Uninsulated bedroom in a very cold climate.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 6:33 PM on December 6, 2014

I HATE down comforters because of the waking-up-sweating thing. I LOVE down-alternative comforters because they are heavy and I like to sleep with some weight on top, but are synthetic and more breathable than down. I got mine at Macy's if it matters, some brands have different weights/heat factors.
posted by CrazyLemonade at 9:00 PM on December 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

Get a heated mattress pad (better than an electric blanket, IMO) and put it on a lamp timer so it shuts off after a couple of hours.
posted by Jacqueline at 11:13 PM on December 6, 2014

I have the same problem! my solution is to turn on my electric blanket a while before I get into bed so it's nice and toasty, and I wear a tshirt and an old pair of my partner's boxers. the blanket turns itself off in the middle of the night, and by then I'm plenty warm for the rest of the night.
posted by hollisimo at 12:08 AM on December 7, 2014

is there a way to get that heavy weight without the heat-trapping of down?

The entire point of down is that weighs less than pretty much any alternative with the same heat trapping ability. If you've got enough down over you that it feels heavy, it's no wonder you're waking up sweaty. You're probably using something rated for Antarctica.

A polyester- or wool-filled quilt that weighs about the same as the down one you're currently using is certainly worth a try.
posted by flabdablet at 5:11 AM on December 7, 2014

My husband got me an electric mattress pad for my birthday just last week, it is AWESOME. We turn it on for an hour or so before bed, get into a luxuriously warm nest of a bed, and I turn it off just before I go to sleep. It cools down perfectly and I wake up comfortable in the morning. I also go to bed freezing and wake up hot, and this has been perfect at least for the few nights we've used it.

Plus, crawling into a pre-warmed bed in winter is a luxury everyone should experience, it's just amazing.
posted by biscotti at 6:08 AM on December 7, 2014 [2 favorites]

Your mattress may also contribute to this. Some mattresses ventilate better than others. Memory foam is known for "sleeping hot" for example.
posted by blub at 7:26 AM on December 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

I love the weight of my wool-poly duvet. Thumbs up.
posted by BrashTech at 5:17 PM on December 7, 2014

Add a bath to your pre-bed routine. It beats a shower everytime!
posted by Gor-ella at 8:42 AM on December 8, 2014

Response by poster: Popping back in to say that I got a heated mattress pad for Christmas and it is, indeed, the BEST thing ever. Crank it on high for 20 minutes before bed, click it off when I turn off the reading light, and fall asleep in cozy warmth... and no waking up sweaty later!

We also tried the European route of removing our top sheet & blanket and sleeping with just the duvet. This seems to have helped with airflow too, while still keeping us warm.
posted by raspberrE at 8:01 PM on January 5, 2015 [2 favorites]

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