What position is best to sleep in hot weather? Sleep experts reveal top tips for the heatwave

Knowing what position is best to sleep in hot weather can be the difference between a good night's sleep and a bad one. Here, experts reveal the ones to try and why

Woman lying on her side asleep peacefully in bed with sunlight coming in through the open curtains, representing what position is best to sleep in hot weather
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Wondering what position is best to sleep in hot weather? As the heatwave is here and only set to continue through most of September in the UK, you're certainly not the only one. While it will come down to personal preference at the end of the day, experts say that some positions will be naturally better than others. 

Heat and good sleep aren't a famously good combination, considering we need to be at a certain temperature for our body and mind to recognise that it's time to turn off. Hot bedrooms, heavy sheets, and a lack of airflow make this very difficult, as do some sleeping positions where our bodies have maximum contact with the mattress. 

Here, woman&home speaks to a sleep scientist and physiotherapist specialising in sleep to reveal what position is best to sleep in hot weather and other top tips to make sure you know how to sleep in the heat with comfort and ease. 

What position is best to sleep in hot weather?

1. The Back Sleeper

Illustration of a woman sleeping on her back during a heatwave

(Image credit: Getty Images)

As the name suggests, this sleeping position has you lying on your back in bed. "Lie down with a thin pillow or no pillow at all to keep your head slightly elevated," suggests Sammy Margo, a chartered physiotherapist and sleep specialist. "By keeping your head slightly elevated, yo can prevent excessive heat build-up as heat tends to rise."

2. The Starfish

Illustration of a woman sleeping in the starfish position to try and lose heat in bed

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Sure, it's perhaps not the most sociable position if you share your bed with someone else, but if you're alone, starfishing in bed could be the winning answer to sleeping in the heat.

"Lying on your back with your limbs spread out can assist in cooling the body, as it maximizes the surface area exposed to the air. Additionally, using a lighter duvet or even using just the sheet or duvet cover can further enhance comfort," says Margo, who is also the resident sleep expert at Dreams

3. The Legs Up

Woman lying on back with legs elevated

(Image credit: Getty Images)

"Lie on your back and elevate your legs by placing a pillow or cushion under your knees," suggests Margo. "This position may help to improve your circulation and reduce tired, achy, and puffy legs, allowing for better blood flow and heat dissipation." 

4. The Side Sleeper

Illustration of a woman lying in the spooning position on her side during heatwave

(Image credit: Getty Images)

In the hot weather, sleeping on your side can be particularly beneficial as it may help you sleep with lower back pain and any other pain-related issues that prevent good sleep. Sleeping on your side with a thin pillow supporting your neck and a somewhat larger pillow between your legs, with the knees and hips nicely stacked on top of each other, is ideal for spinal alignment, says sleep and body clock scientist Dr Kat Lederle.

It's a position that's particularly great for those who suffer from adverse sleep conditions, says Margo, including snoring and sleep apnoea as it helps to keep the airways open.

Although 'the starfish' may be the best sleeping position for some people, "Sleeping on your front is generally not recommended as it can strain your neck and back, leading to pain, which can then interfere with sleep," says Lederle. 

However, much like all recommended wellbeing routines, positions, and habits, what position is best to sleep in hot weather is down to personal preference at the end of the day. "All our bodies are different [so there's not really one recommended position for sleeping in the heat]. It comes down to what position you feel comfortable in to avoid pain, feel relaxed, and breathe easily," the sleep scientist says. 

Why is it so hard to sleep in the heat? 

Simply put, it's so hard for many of us to sleep in a heatwave because the higher temperature prevents some essential bodily processes from taking place. "For us to fall asleep, our core body temperature has to drop just before bedtime. To do so, the body releases heat via the blood vessels near the skin in your feet and hands," explains Lederle. 

"But there also has to be a temperature gradient," she adds. "The environment needs to be cooler so it can take on the heat from the body. Now that we have hot weather and the evenings are warmer, this gradient is smaller. The body is less able to give off heat or only do so later in the night."

Plus, Margo explains, higher temperatures at night can prevent the release of melatonin - the hormone that induces sleepiness in the body - as we miss out on the ideal temperature for sleeping. "For melatonin to be released optimally, our body temperature needs to sit around 37°C, and so having a cool room at around 16-18°C when it’s hot outside can help facilitate this," she says. 

Tips for sleeping better in a heatwave

  • Keep the bedroom cool: Having a cooler sleeping environment and better sleep hygiene is essential if you want to get to sleep easier in the heat, says Lederle. "I close the windows and curtains mid-morning and open them later in the evening when the air has cooled somewhat. At night, maybe only sleep with the duvet cover (and take the actual duvet out)."
  • Stay hydrated: Dehydration will put the body under even more stress, so be sure to stay hydrated through the day and have a bottle of water next to your bed for the night. This is a key part of learning how to sleep better at any time of year as dehydration isn't just an issue in the summer months. 
  • Put a cool towel in the bed with you: "Placing a cool towel beneath yourself, or using a cooling pillow, can help regulate body temperature and prevent overheating, and can also be used to cool yourself before getting into your usual sleepy position," says Margo.
  • Don't worry about not sleeping well: "We are all in the same boat," says Lederle. "Most of us will find it hard to sleep well through a hot summer’s night. The more you worry, the more you stress. That will lead to busy thoughts and a tense body, which is the opposite of being calm and relaxed, two key ingredients for sleep."
  • Accept that there will be some sleepless nights this summer: Whether you struggle to get back to sleep after waking up during the night from the heat or can't fall asleep in the first place, it's better to accept the situation and relax, rather than trying to force yourself to fall asleep. "When you say to yourself ‘I look after my sleep in the best way possible and I realise that I can’t control it. Heat makes sleeping tricky because of how our bodies are designed, not ideal but that is how it is', chances are you'll feel better about the situation," she says.
Grace Walsh
Health Editor

A digital health journalist with over six years of experience writing and editing for UK publications, Grace has covered the world of health and wellbeing extensively for Cosmopolitan, The i Paper and more.

She started her career writing about the complexities of sex and relationships, before combining personal hobbies with professional and writing about fitness. Everything from the best protein powder to sleep technology, the latest health trend to nutrition essentials, Grace has a huge spectrum of interests in the wellness sphere. Having reported on the coronavirus pandemic since the very first swab, she now also counts public health among them.