Tips for sleeping in summer, using aircon correctly and keeping babies cool
Raise your hand if you’ve contemplated sleeping on the tiles during a hot summer’s night.
It’s a relatable feeling for many Australians, except those with air conditioning in the bedroom.
But even when the option to instantly cool down is there, it’s reasonable to have concerns around cost, the environment and your health — especially if you’re running it the whole night.
We dive into the benefits and drawbacks of using aircon while you sleep, and how you can stay cool if temperature control isn’t an option.
Why keeping cool during the night is important
Even if you manage to sleep through an uncomfortably hot night, the quality of sleep is generally poor, explains sleep physician David Cunnington.
“[When it’s too warm] we have a bit of a niggle that is constantly disrupting sleep,” he says.
When you have a string of hot nights, this can impact your function in the day, says Professor Michael Gradisar, a paediatric sleep expert from Flinders University who did his PhD in sleep and thermoregulation.
“If you continue to have poor sleep you might not be aware of how you’re not functioning at your best,” he says.
“The biggest concern I have is when you are driving — that’s when you can’t afford to have your reaction times a second slower.”
Is it OK to leave the aircon running all night?
For some of us, the answer to sleep-friendly temperatures is air conditioning.
Our sleep experts say for a good night’s sleep, controlling the room temperature with aircon is ideal, but there are some things to consider.
“In Australia, particularly when we don’t have the best insulation to keep the heat out, I think it’s really important people are aware they should use the aircon if they can,” Professor Gradisar says.
The benefit is you can create your ideal temperature. The drawback? Aside from the energy use, it’s the humidity it removes from the air.
Michael Tam, from the UNSW School of Public Health and Community Medicine, says low air humidity over an extended period can cause eye and airway irritation, dry skin, blocked nose, sore throat and reduced perception of air quality.
To avoid this, he recommends moving your bed so the air isn’t directly flowing over the face.
“Airflow of this nature will promote drying of the mucous membranes — eyes, nose, mouth and throat,” he says.
To address power use and environmental impact, avoid making the room unnecessarily cold.
Every degree you lower you aircon increases your energy consumption by about 10 per cent.
Ian Swain, Energy Efficiency Council acting head of projects, says 25 degrees Celsius is optimal to balance comfort and cost.
If you can install good insulation in your home — in walls, the roof and under floors — it will mean you don’t have to use your air conditioner for as long.
The South Australian Government has a handy tool to help you work out exactly what your aircon use is costing so you can monitor it.
Noise regulations in your state may impact your ability to run aircon during the night (for example, in Victoria it should not exceed 45 decibels between 10pm and 7am), so it’s best to check with your relevant authority.
What about using aircon for my baby?
Babies are less able to regulate their own body temperature during sleep, so are more susceptible to changes in environmental temperature, explains Dr Cunnington.
Professor Gradisar says it’s important to make sure your baby does not overheat.
Red Nose, Australia’s leading authority on safe sleep and pregnancy, does not recommend a specific room temperature for healthy babies, but says sleeping them on their back with the head and face uncovered is the best way to protect them from overheating.
NSW Health recommends, if using an air conditioner, setting it to between 24 and 26 degrees Celsius, and if using a fan, don’t point it towards the baby.
For more information on keeping your baby comfortable in the heat, see the Red Nose website.