Staying cool while sleeping is about more than avoiding sweaty sheets, says Dr. Michael J. Breus, Ph.D., of The Sleep Doctor.
“Sleep follows the core body temperature cycle,” Dr. Breus says. “In order for your body to produce melatonin, the key that starts the sleep engine, your body must cool down.”
Falling asleep can be tough when it’s hot outside, as the ideal sleep temperature is usually between 67 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Some of us just feel hot while sleeping anyway, which can be a symptom of serious health issues. And feeling hot certainly doesn’t help us stay asleep.
“If you’re waking up because you’re too hot, you’re probably not getting the amount of quality, restorative sleep you need,” says David Rubin, a certified sleep science coach and lead product tester for The Sleep Doctor. “The sleep debt accumulates and eventually has a dramatic effect on our physical and mental health.”
So we turn to products and techniques that help us stay cool when we sleep. These can range from simple ice packs to complex cooling systems that pump water or air through our mattress.
But which of these gets us the biggest bang — or the most sleep — for our buck?
We analyzed 10 cooling solutions to see which offered the biggest return on investment, in terms of the amount of sleep they helped us gain for what we pay for them. We’ve ranked each based on how much we’d typically pay for each minute of sleep that each product or technique would help us gain in a month’s time. So the lower, the better.
The verdict: Don’t — or rather, do — sleep on those ice packs and face-cooling devices, at least to help you fall asleep, with cooling pajamas and sheets helping to maintain cost-effective and cool rest through the night.
Of course, each of us sleeps differently. And a dollar dropped on an item that ranks low on our list may prove invaluable to thousands or millions of sleepers. Check out our methodology below, and read on to see which sleep products or techniques may fit best with your budget.
How We Did It
We selected the most popular general solutions designed to help adults stay cool at bedtime and when they are asleep.
Sleep-specific data comes from a survey commissioned by The Sleep Doctor conducted on the online survey platform Pollfish on Feb. 9 and 10, 2023. Results are from 1,250 survey participants in the United States who were ages 18 and older at the time of the survey. All respondents attested to answering the survey questions truthfully and accurately.
Price ranges are from sale prices published on retail and manufacturer websites, as well as average U.S. utility prices, analyzed from January to March 2023. In the event of large ranges, we chose an average or a representative cost based on prices of popular items, findings from The Sleep Doctor’s product testing, or a combination of both. All are in U.S. dollars.
To balance out these analyses, we also provided example positive and negative product reviews from online retail and manufacturer websites, as well as commentary from adults who spoke with us about staying cool while sleeping. Selected reviews do not correlate to specific images chosen to represent each product category and do not represent the opinion of The Sleep Doctor.
1. Face-Cooling Item
A cooling eye mask, cooling headband, or even an ice pack can be an alternative to draping a drippy washcloth on your forehead — and to breaking the bank on a larger cooling device.
- Sleep: +19 minutes/night
- Cost per minute of sleep gained (month): $0.04
- Price: $25.50 to $100+
- ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ review: “From someone with chronic insomnia, this has been among the most important components in getting a good night’s sleep. Take a few days to get used to the cooling temperature.” — Arthur, retailer website
- ⭐ review: “We have found that the cold lasts too short.” — Melody S., retailer website
Cooling facial items predate much of the technology you’ll find on this list. But survey respondents who used ice packs, sleep masks, or cooling headbands reported sleeping 19 minutes more than average, the highest among users of cooling solutions at bedtime.
You notice their cooling effect right away — you’re placing something cold right on your face, after all. Options abound, including basic ice packs that you can place on your forehead or chest, cooling eye masks that double as blackout masks, and even cooling headbands made from breathable material that cools when damp. Eye masks typically are less than $50, while headbands may be a bit more.
There are drawbacks. Once one of these facial items thaws or dries out, it will warm up again. Most are not built to tackle temperature regulation through the night.
“These are designed based on the idea of letting the body cool down to allow for the initiation of sleep,” Dr. Breus says. “When my patients use these products, they are very happy.”Shop For Best Eye Masks
2. Cooling Pajamas
Pajamas that are made of breathable fabric and that wick moisture may help with night sweats and help us regulate our body temperature when sleeping.
- Sleep: +13 minutes/night
- Cost per minute gained: $0.14
- Price: $42 to $168
- ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ review: “Helps you stay cool. They are super soft and comfortable. I have like 6 pairs.” — Amber Moeggenberg, retailer site
- ⭐ review: “You still sweat and get soaked. Very expensive mistake on my part.” — Edith H. Golden, retailer site.
The price of cooling pajamas varies depending on the material, from lightweight bamboo fabric to performance textiles specifically engineered to wick away sweat. They can come as traditional top-and-bottom sets, gowns, and even hoodies.
About 17% of survey respondents say these pajamas were not effective at keeping them cool, the third highest percentage among products and techniques on our list. But 66.7% of adults who described their sleep quality as “poor” reported that cooling pajamas were effective for them, the highest-rated product or technique for that group.
A cheaper way of staying cool while sleeping would be to sleep naked, as 8.8% of respondents do. But that has a downside, Rubin says.
“Sleeping naked can cause you to get too cold at night and overcompensate with bedding,” he says. “But if your room is set to an optimal temperature, it’s a good way to ensure your pajamas aren’t adding to your problems.”
3. Cooling Sheets
Cooling sheets are standard bed sheets made from breathable fabrics that allow for temperature control.
- Sleep: +17 minutes/night
- Cost per minute gained: $0.17
- Price: $25 to $450+
- ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ review: “These sheets are excellent for comfort and body-heat regulating.” — Mikkii W., retailer site
- ⭐⭐ review: “Not cool at all. Dirt, hair, lint magnet. I’ve washed them twice in one week.” — Nicole G., retailer site
When we’re talking about cooling sheets, we’re referring to those made with lightweight materials such as cotton, linen, or bamboo. Heavier-material sheet sets can keep you hot. These lighter sheets regulate your heat retention, ensuring that heat isn’t trapped in.
“They keep you cool based on the material and weave,” Rubin says, “which means they aren’t necessarily more expensive than other sheets.”
The cost for these sets again can vary, from less than $100 to approaching $500 for organic, rare materials. We went with an average cost around $175 when calculating return on investment.Shop For Best Cooling Sheets
4. Shower or Bath
A shower or bath before bed can be more than just washing the grime of the day away. It can help you relax, improve your sleep hygiene, and fall asleep more quickly.
- Sleep: +2 minutes/night
- Cost per minute gained: $0.19
- Price: $7.50 to $15.30 (monthly water bill)
- ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ review: The warm water really helps to relax my muscles and my mind.” — Lindsey Jordan, Denver, to The Sleep Doctor
- ⭐ review: “I’ve never noticed a difference in relaxation after showering before bed.” — Ashley Kitzis, Erie, Colorado, to The Sleep Doctor
True, you can’t buy a shower the same way you can buy a mattress. But it can be a cooling solution. When you take a warm shower or bath before bed, your body temperature drops.
“This reduces body temperature in a way that can promote sleep,” Rubin says.
In fact, 39.7% of adults who shower or bathe before bed fall asleep within 20 minutes of going to bed, according to our survey, the highest percentage among all sleep products and techniques on our list.
Based on average water costs in the United States and a standard eight-minute shower, it’s a relatively affordable option, so long as we have running water. Does it help us feel cool? Maybe not: Only 41.5% of respondents say a shower is effective at making them feel cool, lowest on our list. A bit more than 23% say it’s not effective, the highest on our list.
5. Cooling Pillow
Cooling pillows typically use passive cooling to absorb or draw heat away from your neck, shoulders, and head while you’re sleeping.
- Sleep: +6 minutes/night
- Cost per minute gained: $0.64
- Range: $50 to $200
- ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ review: “The cooling gel feels wonderful, especially after the bed has warmed up from our natural body heat.” — REM master, Cape Cod, Mass., manufacturer site
- ⭐ review: “It doesn’t cool down, and my head sinks in without any support on the neck. … I’m a side sleeper, and if I keep my head in the middle of the pillow, I feel like I’m going to suffocate.” — Lala, San Francisco, manufacturer site
Most cooling pillows are made from the same materials as cooling mattresses. Gel-infused memory foam is common. Newer brands also use active-cooling technology, with at least one manufacturer selling a pillow that uses a water cooling system.
These pillows often are recommended for people who sleep on their back or side because of the thickness.
“These aren’t as good for stomach sleepers, who need softer pillows that won’t allow for as much cooling,” Rubin says.
6. Cooling Comforter
Cooling comforters and duvets are designed for hot sleepers, often with breathable, sweat-wicking fabrics.
- Sleep: +12 minutes/night
- Cost per minute gained: $0.66
- Price: $40 to $700+
- ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ review: “I am a super hot sleeper, and this is the first blanket that actually stays cool on top and bottom.” — Christina H., retailer site
- ⭐⭐ review: “Every night, even if I’m sleeping alone, I’m waking up sweaty. Things got worse with this blanket.” — Mia F., retailer site
Most people use a blanket to stay warm. But cooling comforters are a type of lightweight bedding designed to keep hot sleepers comfortable overnight. They may be helpful for all sleepers, as well.
“A cooling comforter is a great investment if you like the feeling of sleeping ‘cozy’ but don’t want to get so bundled up that you’re practically sweating,” Rubin says.
Unlike traditional comforters, manufacturers construct cooling comforters with moisture-wicking fabrics that keep sweat away from your skin. They also may use natural, breathable materials such as wool, cotton, or linen to maintain temperature neutrality and prevent overheating.Shop For Best Bedding
7. Cooling Topper/Pad
These mattress toppers and pads are cushioned layers that sit on top of your mattress and absorb heat from your body.
- Sleep: +5 minutes/night
- Cost per minute gained: $1.67
- Price: $50 to $550+
- ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ review: “One of my greatest investments yet.” — Lisa, retailer site
- ⭐ review: “It made me much more uncomfortable and way too hot. I hate it.” — Martha H., retailer site
While similar in appearance, mattress toppers and pads serve two different functions. A mattress pad is typically 1 to 2 inches thick and is designed to make a mattress more comfortable while also protecting it from liquids or accidents. A mattress topper is usually 1 to 4 inches thick and aims to make a mattress noticeably firmer.
The cost range is wide, from simple pads to toppers with more complex construction. But they’re typically far cheaper than a full mattress and use the same cooling materials, Rubin says.
“A topper is a relatively low investment compared to a mattress,” Rubin says. “It’s a great place to start.”
8. Cooling Mattress
These mattresses use breathable components in their design and construction to help keep you cool while sleeping.
- Sleep: +15 minutes/night
- Cost per minute gained: $3.61
- Price: $80 to $6,000+
- ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ review: “It keeps us so much cooler at night and feels so refreshing when we hop in.” — Lauren Fogell, Denver, to The Sleep Doctor
- ⭐ review: “Way too hard. Feels like sleeping on a rock.” — Dave, Playa del Rey, California, manufacturer site
Unlike many traditional mattresses, the technology of these mattresses uses temperature-regulating materials to draw heat away from your body while sleeping. Typically, these materials can be gel-infused memory foam, copper-infused foam, latex, or wrapped coils that may increase airflow.
The cost range on these mattresses is wide. Based on mattresses that The Sleep Doctor has tested, most run in the $1,000 to $3,000 range. Some manufacturers say that increased energy savings, from reduced energy costs to cool down rooms, may offset the potential added cost over a traditional mattress.
“If you’re already on the market for a new mattress, it’s worth spending a little extra to get a mattress designed to keep you cool,” Rubin says. “A mattress itself won’t solve your problems, though.”Shop For Best Cooling Mattress
9. Cooling System
Designed for hot, humid environments, active-cooling systems pump cold water or air through the mattress to maintain a cool surface at night.
- Sleep: +0.3 minutes/night
- Cost per minute gained: $59.40
- Price: $339 to $1,800
- ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ review: “It has been a game-changer for me. I sleep deeper and feel more rested in the morning.” — Damon M., retailer site
- ⭐ review: “It sounded like an airplane was landing in my bedroom. Plus it seemed to warm the room.” — Jennifer N., retailer site
Unlike mattresses and blankets, these systems are an addition to the stuff we normally sleep with. That makes their added cost a “serious investment,” says Rubin, adding that they can “transform a basic mattress into a precise, temperature-controlled sleep sanctuary.”
How? Rather than drawing heat away from us or absorbing it, these cooling systems actively reduce the bed’s temperature. They do this by cooling air or water in a reservoir before running it through the tubes tucked inside a mattress pad.
The benefit is temperature control, as most systems allow for adjustment. They are usually available in half or full sizes, in case one person in a bed doesn’t care for it.
We did have to squint hard to see any change in sleep, however; survey respondents who use cooling systems got just 15.8 seconds more sleep per night than the survey average. Only 4.6% of all respondents used them, as well, the lowest adoption on our list. But as we noted in user reviews, these systems could be a vital component to some sleepers getting back to even an average night’s rest.
Fans are an easy way to circulate air in your bedroom so you can find some sleep, especially when it’s hot outside. These can include box fans, standing fans, and ceiling fans.
- Sleep: +0.7 minutes/night*
- Cost per minute gained: $142.86*
- Price: $20 to $300 or more
- ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ review: “I put the fan on high in the window at night, and it cools the room very quickly.” — Debbie, retailer site
- ⭐ review: “It is quiet, but it might as well be kept in a closet. On its highest setting, I still have to put my hand within 6 inches to feel any breeze.” — Keith, retailer site
* Box fans only
Let’s get something out of the way first: Users of all types of fans averaged 23 seconds less sleep than average each night. So for our ranking, we went with box fans only, as its users slept slightly more than average.
Either way, fans don’t necessarily change the temperature of your body or bedroom. But they do quickly circulate the air so that your skin is no longer in contact with the warmest air. This makes it easier for your body to evaporate sweat from your skin, helping you feel cooler.
They’re also by far the most common cooling option, with 72.8% of survey respondents sleeping in a room with some kind of fan. Box fans also were the most effective option at helping people feel cooler, at 62.1%; 59.3% of users of all types of fans say the fans help them stay cool at night. As for ceiling fans, they were the most effective cooling option among adults who rated their sleep as “excellent” (73.2%).
And yes, we use fans for reasons other than sleeping comfortably. They could also have drawbacks, Rubin says.
“A fan can stir up dust and other allergens, interfering with your sleep,” he says. “If you’re in a dry climate, the constant air could irritate your airways.”