Dealing with Anxiety Dreams in Hot Weather

Fact checked by Olga Sadouskaya, MD
Clinical Pharmacologist, Chief Medical Officer

Do you know the feeling when you wake up in the middle of the night, with fragments of a disturbing dream still floating around in your mind?

Well, that was probably an anxiety dream, also known as a stress dream.

An anxiety dream doesn’t have to be a full-blown nightmare. In fact, it’s any dream that makes you feel stressed, distressed, anxious, or otherwise upset after waking up.

If you notice that you tend to have more anxiety dreams in hot weather, you’re not alone. In this article, we’ll explain what causes anxiety dreams, how heat can play a role, and how to prevent anxiety dreams from ruining your sleep.

What causes anxiety dreams?

As the name suggests, these dreams are usually caused by anxiety or stress.

Scientists believe that being stressed can trigger more frequent dreams in general and more anxiety dreams in particular. The plots of stress dreams can mirror your conscious or subconscious worries. For example, if you often feel anxious about losing control over situations, you might have dreams where your car’s brakes stop functioning.

A sleeping man with an eye mask on having no anxiety dreams in the heat

Here are some common themes of anxiety dreams:

  • Being chased
  • Being late for an important event
  • Failing an exam
  • Getting into legal trouble
  • Being in embarrassing situations
  • Losing a loved one
  • Losing control while driving a car

Apart from anxiety and stress, disturbing dreams can also be caused by:

  • Past trauma
  • Substances such as alcohol
  • Certain medications
  • Insomnia or sleep deprivation
  • External factors like hot weather

Just in case you’re wondering: there’s no scientific evidence that dreams can predict future events. Having a bad dream, no matter how vivid, doesn’t mean it will come true.

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What does heat have to do with dreams?

Our body temperature changes as we go through phases of wakefulness and sleep. For you to sleep well, your core temperature needs to drop by about 33 F (1 C).

But when your bedroom is too hot, your body can’t regulate its temperature, and this overheating can trigger a stress response.

And, as we already know, stress can cause bad dreams.

In addition to this, hot weather can make you wake up more often. And when you wake up at the end of a certain sleep phase (known as REM), you’ll remember your dreams more vividly.

Can you prevent anxiety dreams?

While you can’t control the climate and eliminate all stress-inducing things from your life, you can still take simple steps that will improve your sleep quality and reduce the frequency of anxiety dreams in hot weather.

Make sure your bedroom stays cool

The optimal air temperature for good sleep is around 65 F (18 C). While you may think it’s a bit chilly, remember that you probably sleep under a blanket and that your body actually needs to lose heat to sleep well.

A cool, dark bedroom to prevent anxiety dreams

Controlling your room temperature is quite easy if you have air conditioning. If you don’t, try airing your bedroom in the mornings and evenings. During a heatwave, you may need even more extreme measures like putting a bowl of ice cubes in front of a ventilator.

In addition to this, you can use blinds or blackout curtains to prevent the sun from heating up your bedroom. Keeping the room dark also makes it easier to fall asleep.

Read the labels on your bed sheets

Bed sheets can be made from a variety of fabrics, and some just aren’t suited for comfortable sleep in hot weather.

To sleep well, you need sheets made of a breathable material that wicks away sweat. Good choices are:

  • Linen, a wonderfully breathable and durable natural fabric
  • Percale, a crisp, tightly-woven cotton material that’s often used in hotel sheets
  • Tencel (also known as lyocell or modal), a sustainably produced fabric with a silky feel

Avoid heavy meals in the evening

Eating calorie-dense meals can raise your body temperature. While you probably won’t feel it during the day, even a slight increase in core temperature can interfere with your sleep at night, especially when the weather is already hot.

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In addition to that, a big meal can cause acid reflux and the resulting heartburn can seriously undermine your sleep quality.

To avoid this, try to eat dinner 3-4 hours before going to bed. A small bedtime snack is OK, though — just make sure it doesn’t make your digestive system work too hard!

Enjoy a relaxing evening routine

After a stressful day, let your mind cool down. Relaxation techniques like yoga or meditation can do wonders to your tired mind.

However, save your intense yoga workouts for the morning because vigorous exercise can raise your body temperature.

Alternatively, you can simply enjoy a hobby like gardening, reading, knitting, drawing, or anything that distracts you from the stress of daily life.

Work with a mental health professional

If you suffer from frequent anxiety dreams, you may want to discuss them with a mental health professional.

Recurring anxiety dreams can be a sign of an inner conflict that needs to be solved, usually through talk therapy. If therapy alone doesn’t help, your doctor may prescribe anti-anxiety medications that will reduce your overall stress levels and improve your sleep quality.

Key takeaways

If you notice that you have disturbing dreams in hot weather, you’re not alone and you’re definitely not making it up. Room temperature can have a significant impact on sleep quality.

To prevent anxiety dreams caused by overheating, try to reduce room temperature and avoid certain activities (like vigorous exercise or eating big meals) before bedtime.

In addition, make time to destress and unwind — and don’t hesitate to reach out for professional help if your anxiety is getting out of control.

March 2, 2023