Thoughts racing through your mind while trying to go to sleep can be frustrating. Racing thoughts, anxiety, and stress are major causes of insomnia, which is a very common sleep condition. Insomnia can be treated, but before you go looking for a solution at the drug store, you may want to learn about how body temperature can impact your sleep. Regulation of body temperature can calm racing thoughts, helping your body drift off into sleep.
Why does temperature matter for sleep?
Your body has an internal biological clock that produces circadian rhythms. These rhythms are highly influenced by outside factors, such as light and darkness.1 Circadian rhythms cause temperature changes to your body throughout a 24-hour period. Body temperature begins to cool when the body knows it is time for sleep and continues to cool throughout the night.
You may have heard that it is best to sleep in a cooler room, and according to your circadian rhythm, that is true. Your body prefers a cooler environment for sleep. But why is this? If the body is not cool enough when you are ready for sleep, it does not release melatonin, which is the hormone responsible for making you feel sleepy. Cooler temperatures have a direct impact on melatonin being released.2
Having too much arousal in the frontal cortex of the brain from racing thoughts can also play a role in insomnia. This arousal can prevent the reduction in brain metabolism that is supposed to occur when you sleep, increasing your temperature.
Applying a cooling stimulus to the scalp can help induce sleep by decreasing brain temperature.3
What affects your temperature?
Normal body temperature is 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit, and can normally fluctuate by about a degree either way.
Body temperature can decrease when you are feeling relaxed and your brain is calm. When you are active, your temperature can go up.
Certain medical conditions, some medications, metabolic disorders (such as diabetes and hypothyroidism), alcohol, and drug use can also have an impact on your body temperature.
Some major causes of elevated temperature that can have a negative impact on sleep are stress and anxiety, including racing thoughts, since they can elevate your metabolism. A ramification of increased metabolism, while you are trying to sleep, is heat.
If you are wondering why you sometimes feel cold while you are anxious, it is because your blood vessels constrict due to the stress response. Your body uses homeostasis to regulate your temperature, so when you begin to feel cold, your body notices you are on the lower end of the normal temperature range and works to warm you up.
This increase in body temperature, though not harmful, can interfere with your sleep.
Regulating body temperature vs. sleep medications
Many people look to sleeping pills as an answer to fight sleeplessness. But some sleeping pills may become addictive and many have side effects that include daytime grogginess, stomach issues, nausea, headaches, heartburn, and a decline in cognitive ability.
Another option for treating insomnia is regulating your temperature. This is known as frontal cerebral thermal therapy and is done by applying a cooling stimulus to your head. The cooling of the frontal cortex of the brain has been shown to slow down brain metabolism. One study showed that this form of therapy helped patients to fall asleep and stay asleep similar to their control group of healthy sleepers.4
This sleep technology offers hope to insomnia sufferers that do not want to suffer the negative side effects associated with sleep medication.
How can you regulate your brain temperature for sleep?
You cannot just put an ice pack on your head and hope it will help you sleep. Not only will it not stay in place, but ice packs are also too cold and will not stay cold all night. There are devices on the market you can use that will stay in place, offer the right temperature, and stay the right temperature all night.
The racing thoughts that are keeping you awake are located in the frontal cortex of the brain, so cooling devices are applied to the forehead. They are generally in the form of a cap or a strap that you can secure to your head and allow for you to adjust the temperature.
Once the device is applied it will start lowering your brain temperature, reducing metabolism in the brain, slowing down racing thoughts, and allowing your body to release melatonin.
One product that uses cooling technology that may help you get the sleep you need is Ebb, a device used with PrecisionCool Technology. You can find more information about this device
© 2020 American Sleep Association.