Research is showing that sleep affects our long-term and short-term health far more than we thought. No longer should we be encouraging our family members, colleagues and students to pull all-nighters to show how tough they are. Indeed, the less sleep you get, the less efficient you are at just about anything.
A quality sleep is essential for concentration, memory retention, patience, energy levels, and to help maintain proper blood pressure and body weight.
But if you’re a hot sleeper, cold or cold sweats sleeper or hot and sweaty sleeper, getting a comfortable and good night’s sleep can be a real challenge.
Women, especially women in some stage of menopause, suffer more than men from one of these three forms of sleep, especially the “hot and sweaty” sleeper (and not in a good way).
Sleep is meant to be restorative but hot flashes or night sweats can have you tossing and turning, cover-flipping, waking up in the middle of the night soaked, and generally just having a miserable sleep experience. For some, it happens 3-7 nights per week.
Hot sleepers abound - men tend to be in the majority in this category but women, especially those in perimenopause or menopause can become hot sleepers too. This is because one of estrogen’s role is to lower your core body temperature as a signal that it’s time to go to sleep.
As your estrogen naturally decreases, your core body temperature may not lower to the same level as it did in the past. If you used to need your partner for warmth and heat when you were younger and now just the thought of them being at your side makes you break out into a sweat, you’re probably a hot sleeper. Another way to tell is to see if the number of covers you sleep under or the room temperature you currently sleep in is cooler than in previous years. Love the -15C nights? You're probably a hot sleeper (although they're great for hot flash sleepers too).
However, hot sleeping and hot flash sleeping are different. As a hot sleeper, your temperature stays stable but warmer throughout the night, so as long as you adjust your sleepwear, bedding and room temperature you can still sleep comfortably.
Night sweats and hot flashes
Sleeping with night sweats is entirely different than the other two scenarios. Your body’s thermostat has gone slightly wonky and will signal to your core that you need to cool down immediately. The way your body cools down your core is to pump blood to the surface, dilate blood vessels, open sweat glands and let out all the heat and sweat it can. These actions happen rapidly, with only a smidgen of warning. If they only happen once or twice in the night and only once or twice per week or less, they won’t give you too much trouble. If, on the other hand, they are more frequent, they can leave you sleep deprived and utterly exhausted.
What about a cold sleeper?
If you’re a cold or cold sweat sleeper you’re both cold and wet – or rather chilled. It’s really not a comfortable situation. Cold sweats can occur without a hot flash. They are brought on by stress and anxiety, menopause, low blood sugar and other causes. Your body sweats even though you aren’t warm, so the moisture sits on your skin and soaks your sleepwear and bedding. You can stay chilled and damp depending on how frequently it occurs during the night.
Fabric can Affect Your Sleep Comfort
If you experience any of these sleep issues on a frequent basis, you know just how uncomfortable you can be. And, if you’re uncomfortable during the night, your sleep will be terrible and you’ll be exhausted the next day. So much for the restorative nature of sleep!
Perhaps surprisingly, what you sleep in can help you sleep better – at least more comfortably. The right fabric can actually help manage your hot flashes, cold sweats or hot sleeping.
You may not have thought that fabric can do much, but some fabrics naturally wick and evaporate sweat and store and release heat as the body needs it while others actually trap the heat and sweat next to you - keeping you clammy and uncomfortable all night long.
So which fabrics are best for your situation?
Check out the table below to see which fabrics work for your situation:
If you’re interested in finding out why the fabrics are best for each situation, read on.
If you are looking to purchase new sleepwear always check the fabric tags or product description to ensure the fabric is right for your situation.
The Best Fabrics for Hot Sleepers:
Hot sleepers need light, breathable, moisture-wicking fabric and bedding. Any fabric that allows the heat to escape so it doesn’t build up is best. The best fabrics for hot sleepers are:
- hemp/cotton blends
- linen and linen blends
- lyocell (Tencel is the brand name)
The second-best fabric would be:
- cotton (very light)
But what about silk?
Silk fabric is a bit of a conundrum. It feels cool to the touch at first, but silk is a natural insulator. What that means is that it will naturally keep the heat next to you and as a hot sleeper, the last thing you want is to be wrapped in an increasingly warm sleepwear (or sheets, for that matter).
Tips for the hot sleeper for better comfort and a drier sleep:
There are easy ways to adjust as a hot sleeper, especially during the cooler months when keeping your room temperature cool is easier.
Use lighter covers that are breathable and let hot air escape. Stay away from synthetic fabrics such as polyester, nylon and natural fabric such as wool (wool is a fantastic insulator! Hot sleepers do not want fabrics that insulate – i.e., trap heat next to them).
Also, make sure that your sheets are breathable and let heat escape. Use:
- cotton sheets with a low thread count (300-350 thread count, organic, extralong staple fiber/Egyptian cotton will last the longest and won’t pill),
- linen sheets,
- hemp or hemp/organic cotton blend or
- lyocell sheets preferably made from bamboo or hemp
Viscose or rayon sheets are also acceptable but they aren’t as effective as letting heat escape as the above fabrics and they’re aren’t durable.
If possible, avoid microfibre polyester and other synthetic fabric sheets. While they are somewhat breathable, they are petroleum-based and cause microplastics to build up in waterways and sea life and as scientists are learning, in our home environment.
The best fabrics for cold sweaty sleepers
Cold sweats sleepers will remain chilled all night long thanks to the sweats if they aren't sleeping in the right fabric and/or bedding.
Hemp again is one of the best fabrics you can use for cold sweats. It wicks the water away from your skin quickly so you stay dry. The hollow core of the hemp fibre stores excess heat and will release it back to you as you need it. You stay dry and warm and can sleep more comfortably.
Hemp/lyocell or 100% lyocell (especially hemp or bamboo lyocell) are also great for a cold sweat sleeper. They will moderate your temperature, keeping heat next to you and wicking moisture away to keep your temperature stable.
Wool is another great fabric for cold sweats. High-quality, Merino wool or other fine, soft wool for comfort is best because it is soft and not itchy.
Wool, like silk, is an amazing insulator. It is really effective at keeping heat in. Unlike silk, wool loves water and will absorb a lot of water before you notice it next to you.
Fabrics to avoid:
- Silk: it is a great at insulating, terrible at moisture-wicking.
- Viscose/rayon: it is not effective enough to make a difference to your cold sweats. It will lightly moderate sweat, but it is not an insulator so heat will escape.
- Cotton: while it seems like a logical choice if you experience cold sweats, but the reality is that cotton, while breathable, loves water. It does not let go of water easily, so not only does it absorb all your sweat, it keeps it right next to your skin. So now you are clammy, damp and cold. Avoid cotton sleepwear and sheets.
The best fabric for sleepers with hot flashes
Hot and sweaty sleepers have the worst of both worlds. Temperature fluctuations mean they are constantly being woken up in a state of discomfort – either being too hot during a hot flash or freezing cold and damp after the hot flash. If the cycles are frequent, a person can become severely sleep deprived in very little time.
The best type of fabric for hot and sweaty sleepers is fabric that responds to constantly changing temperatures. These types of fabrics are known as thermoregulating fabrics. They respond to heat and sweat by absorbing, wicking, storing and releasing heat and sweat as needed.
The most effective fabrics at doing this job are natural, non-petroleum-based materials. Their natural physical structure are perfect for heat and sweat management.
Hemp is one of the best natural thermoregulating fabrics available. The hemp fibre’s natural structure has microscopic pores in the fibre and a hollow core. This type of structure allows the fibres to wick heat away from the body and store it in the hollow core until needed again. The actual physical structure of the hemp fibre promotes fast wicking and evaporation of moisture so that the fabric dries almost immediately. You stay comfortable while your body is undergoing a hot flash – in fact, you may not even wake up.
Linen is very similar to hemp in this regard. The flax fibre is similar and has similar properties to hemp. They are both part of the bast family of fibres.
Lyocell is another great fabric for hot flashes – especially if it’s blended with hemp or is made from bamboo or hemp fibres. Lyocell responds to moisture and heat with the properties of the cellulose product that was used to make it. If the fabric tag doesn't indicate what kind of lyocell it is it is most likely made from the beech tree.
Silk and 100% cotton are not recommended for sleepers with hot flashes due to their inability to wick moisture fast enough. And as already noted, silk is an insulator and will trap heat next to your body.
Regarding polyester and other synthetic fabrics: generally, a synthetic fabric does not have the ability to respond to temperature and humidity changes. It is a stable, solid fibre, so it’s the weave and any treatment that make polyester fabrics effective at effective heat and sweat management.
If you are a hot sleeper, cold sleeper or hot and sweaty sleeper, there are ways to sleep more comfortably, and possibly even sleep through the night undisturbed. Fabric choices will make a significant impact on your sleep comfort. Check your sleepwear fabric to see what type of fabric you’re sleeping in. You may need to change your sleepwear for a better sleep.