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The prospect of spending a large part of the summer social distancing at home — and a significant portion of it in bed, regardless — seems more and more likely. To that end, you might be looking for ways to ensure good quality sleep. Hot summer nights, of course, can make for sweaty and uncomfortable sleeping situations. But cranking up the AC can be costly and not especially useful for your sleep — not to mention it’s not great for the environment. Another way to achieve cooler sleep is through your bedding: Upgrade your downtime with cooling bedding. However, with more and more fabrics on the market claiming to sport cooling properties, it can get frustrating to find the right cooling bedding for you. To help, we consulted experts on what to look for when you’re shopping for cooling bedding, as well as some of the best cooling bedding out right now.
Should you buy cooling and breathable bedding?
Cooling bedding can come off like a marketing ploy but experts say it could actually improve your sleep and, in turn, your quality of life.
Board-certified sleep specialists W. Christopher Winter, MD, and Arun Badi, MD, PhD, identify temperature as one of the most important factors that affect quality of sleep. To achieve an optimal sleeping environment, Winter — a neurologist and author of “The Sleep Solution” — recommends a temperature of about 65 degrees Fahrenheit. However, he doesn’t see that as an end unto itself and doesn’t recommend using the AC to achieve it, calling that approach “problematic.”
“It’s expensive [and] a bit wasteful to cool an entire bedroom just to make your bed [cool],” Winter said. Instead, he recommends investing in bedding.
How to shop for cooling bedding
Many brands have specific products they market as cooling bedding. However, you can guide your shopping with specific terms that tell you more than others.
Look for terms like “moisture-wicking” and “breathable,” as well as materials like cotton, Tencel and bamboo. Both Winter and Badi told NBC News Shopping that materials play a significant role in how cooling bedding is — sometimes more than proprietary technologies and construction a brand boasts.
Cooling bedding language
Moisture-wicking properties refer to a product’s ability to move moisture to the surface, thereby making it easier for it to evaporate, and to subsequently dry quickly. You will definitely want a product that boasts moisture-wicking properties. According to research in the Journal of Physiological Anthropology, “the use of clothing and beddings greatly aid in maintaining the body temperature at an acceptable thermal state in a variety of environments...”
Similarly, breathable bedding means a material or product allows air to pass through it more effortlessly, often through to the skin, making it easier for moisture to evaporate. This can go a long way in keeping you from waking up with that sticky, sweaty and uncomfortable feeling. Conversely, try to avoid materials that are thick and likely to retain moisture at higher levels. Foam in bedding is a common culprit. If you’re partial to the material, make sure the product also has cooling gel or air vents in it.
Cooling bedding features
You’ll also come across many listed features as you’re shopping for cooling bedding. Here’s what they mean — and what they don’t.
- Cooling gel: A common feature of cool bedding — particularly pillows — cooling gel works by absorbing body heat and dissipating it throughout the pillow. Gel is able to do this without losing its shape, keeping the temperature down throughout the night. Although a seemingly cool scientific feat, cooling gel is most important in mattresses and pillows that use memory foam, which tends to trap heat.
- Temperature sensitivity: Some materials are able to detect how much heat is being trapped , otherwise known as temperature sensitivity. Once the amount of heat has reached a threshold, various materials release some of it to bring the temperature back down. This is mostly useful for people whose body temperature tends to change drastically, as the material will be able to adjust to the fluctuations and keep you cool throughout the night. If your temperature is usually stable, temperature sensitivity might not make too much of a difference.
- Ventilation/airflow: Many cooling bedding items vaunt ventilation or airflow or circulation, which is what it sounds like: Fresh air is able to come into the material and old air can move out. Ventilation works like breathable material. Seek this feature, particularly in mattresses and pillows, where dust, air and heat can accumulate more easily. Similarly, if you’re looking into memory foam, ventilation and airflow features are a must.
- Cool-to-the-touch: As the name suggests, cool-to-the-touch items provide a feeling of coolness as soon as you touch them. During the heat of the summer, this immediate refreshing feeling can help make you more comfortable. However, if you’re already able to keep your home cool and don’t tend to be an overly hot sleeper, this is more a nice feature than a necessity.
Best cooling mattresses and pads
If you’re looking for a new mattress, don’t hesitate to go for a cooling one. As explained above, having a mattress that keeps the temperature regulated is one of the best and (relatively) easiest ways to sleep better. “Mattresses [...] determine the degree of comfort in your sleep,” says Badi, so you definitely don’t want to cut corners on this investment if you have the option.
GhostBed claims to have “the coolest bed in the world,” with five of its seven layers incorporating different cooling technologies. The top layer has ice fabric, which means that it’s cool to the touch. Its cooling fiber and so-called airflow technology allows for breathability and prevents heat and moisture from being trapped. This layer sports gel memory foam as well, so that you get the comfort of memory foam without its overheating issues. If you prefer firmness, memory foam — even one infused with cooling gel — is not the best material. To top it all off, the second layer of the mattress has temperature-sensitivity that allows it to perceive heat and regulate how much of it is accumulated to make sure the mattress always stays cool.
Eight Sleep’s Pod Pro is a mattress for techies who want to track and control different aspects of their sleep. You can set the mattress temperature from your phone, for one thing. It’s also possible to have different temperatures on either side of the bed, which is something to consider if you and your partner have different sleeping temperature preferences. Besides, the mattress equips embedded alarm technology — it gradually changes temperature and vibrates to wake you up gently. While the features are definitely impressive, this mattress is best for people who are very specific about what temperature they want, as it’s basically having an A/C unit in your bed.
White recommends this mattress to his patients. The M3 features dual adjustment so you can choose a different level of firmness than your partner. Its ventilation panels allow full breathability, helping air circulate and keeping humidity from accumulating. The top cover is also cool-to-the-touch and removable. This gives instant cooling properties and also makes it easier to remove and wash with ease.
If you can’t invest in a new mattress right now, a good alternative is to buy a cooling pad, which you can place on top of your regular mattress. The ChiliPAD stands out because you can control the temperature with a remote. This is an economically-savvy alternative to the Eight Sleep Pod Pro, as you can be very specific about the temperature that works for you. The company claims its technology alleviates night sweats and promotes deep sleep.
Best cooling sheets and comforters
Perhaps in the midst of summer, a cooling mattress is just not enough and you are still suffering from hot nights of interrupted sleep. Buying cooling sheets and comforters could help you keep your bed at an even more comfortable temperature. It’s also very easy to simply switch them out when winter comes along and you want a bit more heat.
Another of White’s recommendations, this sheet set is made with Tencel, a human-made, eco-friendly material that sports moisture-wicking properties. It’s also quite soft for all-around comfort. Sheex also has copper and bamboo cooling sheet sets.
These sheets are made with 67-percent natural rayon from viscose bamboo, which is naturally breathable. This helps air flow easily, releasing heat and moisture. The material is also hypoallergenic and gentle to the environment since it grows fast and can be harvested without necessarily causing deforestation.
If you’re the kind of person who needs a comforter to sleep, but also gets uncomfortably hot during the night, this cooling comforter is for you. Made with an 100-percent eucalyptus shell, it’s cool-to-the touch and breathable. Eucalyptus is less water-intensive than other crops, such as cotton, which has been identified as one of the “thirstiest” crops by the World Wildlife Federation. So you can sleep better knowing your choices are helping the environment.
My Sheets Rock is focused on one thing: cooling sheets. They're designed to regulate temperature, wick moisture and reduce sweating (and resulting smells). Made of lightweight and hypoallergenic materials that are stretchy and cool to the touch, you can get the Regulator Sheets in eight different colors. The sheets are made in Oeko-TEX-certified factories and include a fitted sheet, flat sheet and two pillowcases.
Best cooling pillows
Pillows alone won’t make a huge difference in temperature, but they can be a great complement to other cooling items. They also provide an immediate cooling feeling the second you put your head down to sleep.
The special cover of this pillow uses Tempur-Pedic’s SmartClimate technology, which boasts a breathable cell structure that allows excess heat to easily rise. Cooling gel also helps keep this pillow cool-to-the touch and comfortable. White considers Tempur-Pedic’s cooling products some of the best in the market.
Casper designed this ergonomic foam pillow with breathable and air-circulating properties that keep heat from accumulating, a solid option combining cooling properties and the non-cooling memory foam. The pillow also helps with head and neck alignment, which can be good for people with back pain.
This Viscosoft pillow is filled with cooling gel and optimizes airflow. As with other products, the gel gives it an immediate cool feeling that is perfect for hot summer nights. Airflow allows the pillow to stay cool throughout the night. The removable cover is moisture-wicking, antibacterial, and hypoallergenic.
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