No two people sleep in exactly the same way, so it’s hard to find an ideal sleeping environment to suit everyone perfectly. A few factors – such as diet and exercise – are known to affect most people’s ability to sleep in some way. In recent years, body temperature has emerged as another important part of the sleep cycle.
Why does room temperature matter?
Most sleep researchers seem to agree that the best temperature for an adult’s bedroom is somewhere between 16 and 20C. Temperatures in this range are less likely to interfere with a natural drop in body temperature which leads to sleepiness.
Our body has an internal clock, often referred to as the ‘circadian rhythm’. This roughly 24-hour cycle revolves around light and darkness, telling the body to release hormones like melatonin that tell us when we should sleep. Body temperature follows this pattern too, peaking during the late afternoon and reaching a minimum around 5am. As the body produces less energy throughout the day, our internal temperature starts to fall and we start to feel tired. Anything that pushes against that cooling process can lead to trouble sleeping.
What’s the ideal room temperature for a child’s room?
Babies and children need more sleep than grown-ups, and sleep disturbances can lead to problems later in life. As with adults, there’s no guaranteed solution to make a child sleep, but getting the room temperature right should help.
While it seems to push against our basic instincts, babies don’t need a particularly warm room to sleep in. It’s probably best to keep the room at a temperature suitable for adults, so again, somewhere around the 18C mark is ideal. (While it’s a very rare disorder, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) is associated with high temperatures in babies. You can read more about keeping your baby cool and reducing the risk of cot death here.)
Rituals are important for the sleep cycle, so setting a bedtime schedule from an early age is great for reinforcing helpful patterns in a young brain. Things like reading a story help the child come to know the bedroom as a calm, quiet place. Bathtime, meanwhile, is particularly useful in relation to temperature.
A warm bath before bed raises the baby’s core temperature. This helps that slow, natural cooldown process that – fingers crossed - leads to sleepiness. For best results, it’s probably best to have the bath a good hour before you want the child to sleep, to allow enough time for the cooling to take effect. (This works for a lot of grown-ups too)
Are sleeping disorders common?
Around 10 to 20% of people in Europe and the US report regular problems with sleep. There are now over a hundred diagnosed sleeping disorders. Some people find it hard to stick to a regular sleep schedule. Some do unusual things while asleep. Some stare at the ceiling while their partner sleeps like a baby.
One study found that those who suffer from insomnia are more likely to have a warmer core body temperature than most people just before bedtime. The suggestion is that their sleeplessness is caused partly because their body just won’t cool down at the same time as that of most people.
There are at least as many suggested remedies for sleeplessness than there are causes, and some are more straightforward than others.
Keeping a steady room temperature
Adjusting thermostats on radiators can help give you greater control over the temperature in each room. If you have an even more advanced system, like smart heating controlled by an app, you can be even more specific. Perhaps setting a timer so your heating goes on and off at the ideal times, allowing things to cool down or heat up for bedtime.
It's also important to keep your central heating in tip top condition, to make sure you and your little ones stay cosy. Getting your boiler serviced regularly can help avoid poor performance and taking out boiler cover gives you peace of mind if your boiler breaks down.