cartoon showing AC blowing cold air where person is sleeping

Is it OK to sleep with the AC on? – The good, the bad, practical tips, and remedies for common issues

By Jason Wooden, PhD | July 14, 2022

Air conditioners are popular yet come with downsides which include dehydration, dry eyes and skin, headaches, allergies, and asthma.  When properly maintained they provide a more comfortable temperature, white noise, and can filter out allergens.  Whether it’s OK to sleep with AC will depend on your setup, how well it’s maintained, and if you can remedy health issues you experience.

Why it matters whether you sleep with AC on

What’s more frustrating than tossing and turning on a hot humid night?  It’s twice the misery since you’re uncomfortably hot and desperate for sleep.

That’s why the invention of air conditioning was a game changer.

When Shakespeare first penned the words “To or not to be” in his play Hamlet, it’s was during the mini-ice age when the Northern Hemisphere was a bit cooler.  With our increasing heatwaves, maybe today he would instead write in a play “To sleep or not to sleep with AC on”

Nonetheless, sleeping in hot weather is an issue that’s here to stay for the foreseeable future with global temperatures continuing to trend up.

Missing out on sleep during warm stretches comes with serious downsides…

Sleep deprived people don’t think as clearly, have a harder time coping, and don’t perform as well at school or on the job. Relationships and intimacy suffer.

If it becomes an ongoing issue, you’re more at risk for all sorts of serious issues including diabetes, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, obesity related illnesses, a weakened immune system, anxiety, and depression.

So, if you live in a warm climate and you’re sleeping poorly on a regular basis it’s costing you

On the other hand, I totally get why you would want to know whether are any downsides from sleeping with AC on.

Maybe you’ve experienced symptoms or noticed some different with your body…

It could be you’ve heard something from a friend…

Regardless, it’s fair to ask whether there’s anything you should be concerned about.

It’s both your sleep and your health that’s at stake.

So, to sleep or not to sleep with AC on – that really is the question for our times.

We’re going to take a look at how AC affects the body, the downsides, the benefits, and practical remedies for some of the more common issues.

Then you can decide based on your own situation whether it’s OK for YOU to sleep with the AC on.

What happens when you sleep with the AC on?

The way air conditioners work is that they move warm air from inside while releasing cool air back inside.  During the process, the inside air is made less humid since cool air can’t carry as much moisture as warm air.

Because of this, there are various ways in which AC may affect the body:

Dehydration – Since air conditioning can dry out the air, it can also dry out you.

Dry eyes and skin – The lack of humidity can also dry out your eyes and skin

Headaches – Spending excessive time in air conditioning can lead to headaches whether it’s from dehydration or poor air quality.

Trigger for allergies & asthma – A poorly maintained air conditioner can expose you to triggers such as dust mites, mold, pet dander, pollen, and chemicals.

Respiratory issues – Excessive time in air conditioned spaces may lead to irritated nasal passages and more upper respiratory symptoms

Increased risk for infectious diseases – Dried out nasal passages may become more irritated and vulnerable to infection from bacteria and viruses.

Lethargy – In studies, some people may experience bouts of sluggishness

Can you get sick from sleeping with AC on?

Given how popular air conditioning is, you would think there would be a ton of research on this.  After all, in the US alone 84% of all homes have some type of air conditioning.

Unfortunately, the research is limited and most of the studies focus on office buildings or hospitals.  There’s very little research that directly examines whether you can get sick from sleeping with AC in a home setting.

All the same, researchers have found an association between air conditioning and illness, including a French study of 920 women.  Working in air conditioned office buildings was linked to more sickness absences and visits to ear-nose-throat doctors.

The elevated risk for illness in office buildings is believed to be due to the build up of moisture in AC systems that promote the growth of microbes.  Likewise, in hospitals, the risk of sickness is thought to be due to the accumulation of dust and moisture within improperly maintained AC systems which promotes the transmission of microbes.

So, can you get sick from sleeping with AC on?  Yes, it’s possible, especially if your air conditioner is poorly maintained.

At a minimum, it may aggravate something you’re already dealing with such as allergies, asthma, colds, or other respiratory challenges.

However, the real issue is not cold air per se.

It’s a situation in which your body is more at risk for health issues due to a less humid sleeping space and an AC setup that’s allowed to circulate irritants that trigger respiratory illness.

Signs sleeping in AC is making you sick:

  • watery eyes or dry eyes
  • sneezing
  • coughing
  • sore throat
  • difficulty breathing
  • headaches
  • fevers and chills
  • fatigue

The benefits of sleeping with AC on

Obviously, it’s not all bad when it comes to sleeping with AC. There are definite benefits from a WELL MAINTAINED AC setup that can help you sleep better:

A more comfortable bedroom temperature

As a basic rule, sleep experts recommend you keep your sleeping space dark, quiet, and on the cool side.  Colder room temperatures help your body’s natural sleep process.

Studies suggest that a room temperature between 60 and 67 degrees Fahrenheit is optimal for sleeping with 65 degrees being the sweet spot.

It can help bring the humidity down

If you live in warm and humid part of the world, it can be also impossible to get decent sleep on a sweltering night.  Air conditioning can help take the edge off the humidity.

White noise

If you have trouble falling asleep or you’re easily awakened by intruding sounds, white noise can help keep your sound environment constant.  In fact, many people find that the sound of an air conditioner helps them fall asleep.

Fewer allergens and respiratory irritants

Allergies can make it challenging to sleep.  If the filters in an air conditioner are regularly cleaned and setup is functioning correctly, it can help remove allergens and pollutants from your living space.

This can be a big plus for allergies and asthma.

So, Is it OK to sleep with AC on?

By now, it should be clear that whether it’s ok to sleep with AC on will depend on your AC setup and the specific challenges you’re experiencing.

There are definite benefits from sleeping in AC but there can also be downsides.  We’ve talked about the health effects, risks, and benefits.

It’s up to you to honestly weigh the pros and cons for your individual situation.

If you’re not experiencing any obvious downsides, then it’s likely okay.

If you find you’re experiencing symptoms that are seriously affecting your health and sleep, then maybe it’s not worth it especially if you can’t remedy the issues for your situation.

A stuffy nose is one thing. If it’s making you really sick during the night and day, then that’s a bigger issue.

On the other hand, not getting decent sleep is an obvious downside that can also affect your health and quality of life.

If you’re desperate for AC to survive a hot stretch of weather, maybe there’s a practical remedy that can make a difference.

Next, we’ll take a look at your options.

Practical tips and remedies for sleeping with AC

So, you’ve decided that you want to give things a try and see if sleeping with AC on is manageable for you?  There’s a lot you can do to avoid the some of the downsides and enjoy the benefits.

Tips for your AC setup:

Regular maintenance – AC units should be checked regularly by service technicians to avoid the buildup of stagnant water

Add a HEPA filter – adding a high efficiency filter to your AC setup is a great way to remove dust, mold, pet dander, pollen, and other airborne particles from the air in your living space. Learn more

Clean filters often – regular cleaning will help you get the most out of them. Learn more

Keep it cool but not too cool – for comfort and energy efficiency, the US Department of Energy recommends you set your thermostat to 78F (26C).

Combine with other cooling remedies – try running your AC not as cold and using a house fan

Pre-cool your bedroom – try cooling down your bedroom before bedtime and then turning it off when you go to sleep

Remedies for common health effects:

Dehydration – drink lots of water during the day

Dry skin – besides hydrating more, you can use a moisturizer

Dry eyes – hydrate, avoid having air blow directly on you, and use eye drops

Allergies – your options include allergy meds, immunotherapy, anti-allergen sprays, and air purifiers

Lethargy – set your AC to a higher temperature

 

Other ways to stay cool if you decide you don’t want to sleep with AC

If it’s not working out for you to sleep with air conditioning, the good news is that there are other things you can do to stay cooler.

I’ve already mentioned pre-cooling your bedroom and then shutting off the AC.

Other remedies worth a try include:

photo of bedroom with shades closed

1) Keeping your room as cool as possible during the day

Be sure to keep the lights and electronics off.  Keeping the door closed and room darkening shades can help too.

2) Avoid exercising too close to bed

Exercise can cause your temperature to spike at a bad time.

3) Keep cold water nearby

A cool drink can make a difference if you get too warm and wake up during the night.

4) Try a cooler pillow

Not all pillows are equal.  It may be time to ditch your feather down pillow for one made with temperature regulating technology.

If you’re looking for a good option, you may want to try this memory foam pillow which I write about here.

5) Dip your feet in cold water

Quick, simple, and may just do the trick.

6) Cool off in the shower

Easy enough to do, another quick way to cool off in the evening.

7) Go for a quick swim

There’s nothing like an evening swim to cool off…

8) Try a cold compress or ice pack

You can place it on your neck or forehead.  Be careful how long you use it so you don’t get an ice burn or frostbite. 

For safety, you may want to wrap it in a towel.

9) Freeze a wash cloth or towel

As an alternative to an ice pack, you can keep a ready supply of wash clothes and towels in your freezer.

10) Try a wet sheet curtain

This idea goes back to the ancient Egyptians.  On a breezy day, hanging a wet sheet in front an open window will give you some cool air.

photo of house fan to use instead of sleeping with AC

11) Double up on the fans

Place one in the window to move out hot air, place another inward to move air around the room.

photo of basement in house

12) Sleep somewhere else

You can sleeping on the floor, downstairs, or in a basement.  If things get really bad, maybe you relocate to hotel for a night or two.

Sources:

1. “How Does Air Conditioning Work?”, boxt.co.uk

2. “Staying too much in air conditioning can affect your health: know how”, 2007, Everlasting Air Heating Cooling

3. “12 shocking air conditioning statistics (and 3 money-saving tips)”, 2018, RW WARNER, INC

4. Commentary: Air conditioning as a risk for increased use of health services. International Journal of Epidemiology, Volume 33, Issue 5, October 2004, Pages 1123–1126

5. “Can Air Conditioning Make You Sick?”, 2022, cielowigle.com

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