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Have you ever woken up with a jolt in the middle of the night after a particularly unpleasant, vivid dream? Chances are you experienced an anxiety dream.

Our mental state can seriously affect the quality of our sleep. If you’re experiencing stress or anxiety in your waking life, you may find that your dreams become significantly less peaceful.

However, recent studies have shown that anxiety isn’t the only factor that causes anxiety dreams. As it turns out, external factors like climate can have a significant impact on the quality of your dreams, too.

If you want to find out whether the heat is to blame for your unpleasant dreams, you’ve come to the right place.

Read on to discover how anxiety dreams really work, how a heat wave can cause them, and how you can improve your sleep, whatever the temperature.

Anxiety dreams are dreams that cause stress or distress. This means their effects linger after you wake up. You may even wake up feeling more tired and stressed than you did when you fell asleep — not exactly the restful sleep you might have hoped for.

Anxiety dreams aren’t always nightmares. Any dream that gives you lingering feelings of fear, stress, panic, uneasiness, or nervousness falls into the category of anxiety dreams.

Wondering whether your bad dreams are actually anxiety dreams? The following elements tend to characterize them:

  • The dream is particularly vivid and memorable.
  • You’re falling, being chased, running late, or naked in public. These may be signs of specific anxieties in your life.
  • The dream wakes you up in the middle of the night.

What causes an anxiety dream?

Many believe anxiety dreams are caused by your mental state. These factors are often cited:

  • anxiety
  • uncertainty
  • insomnia
  • substance use, like alcohol
  • trauma

It turns out external factors can also bring about anxiety dreams.

Heat can have some pretty powerful effects on our bodies — which can also affect our quality of sleep. Here are a few ways that heat can actually cause anxiety dreams.

Anxiety hormones

Even if you’re not feeling anxious about any life changes or upcoming events, sudden hot temperatures can actually cause your body to think you’re anxious.

Your body enters a state of hyperthermia in extremely hot temperatures. If your body temperature rises to about 99.5°F (37.5°C) for even half an hour, the following physiological changes can occur:

  • activation of the HPA axis, which helps control the body’s stress response
  • increased metabolism
  • increased heart rate
  • increased respiration
  • dehydration
  • a reduction in bodily fluids and a drop in blood pressure
  • reduced blood flow to the brain

Extreme heat can actually force your body to respond in many of the same ways as they would to mental anxiety.

Quality of sleep is affected when temperatures are high because heat puts the body in a naturally anxious state. You may find that your dreams become more vivid and more uneasy simply because your body is overheated.

Increases ‘sleep intensity’

According to Wayne Ross, senior researcher at InsideBedroom, “The ideal temperature — for most people — for optimal sleep is 60 to 67 degrees Fahrenheit, and 40 percent to 60 percent humidity. Sleep quality is greatly reduced if the temperature and humidity exceed the mentioned ranges.”

This is because the body can’t shed heat when your room is too hot, causing disruptions in sleep, particularly in deep sleep and rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. It’s during REM sleep that dreams are the most vivid and the most unpleasant.

More vivid dreams

As it turns out, hot weather makes it more likely that you’ll remember your dreams after you wake up.

According to Alex Dimitriu, MD, double board certified in psychiatry and sleep medicine and founder of Menlo Park Psychiatry & Sleep Medicine, hot weather causes you to wake up more often at the end of the REM cycle. This means you’re more likely to remember the dream you were just experiencing.

“As the body’s temperature drops during sleep, we enter more deep, restorative sleep. Cooler temperatures, therefore, may also help us stay asleep and have dreams but forget them, as we are supposed to,” he explains.

“Indeed, warmer temperatures can result in more awakenings from sleep, during which dreams may be remembered. However, fragmented sleep is the opposite of ideal,” Dimitriu says.

This means you may be experiencing anxious dreams all the time, but you remember them when the weather gets hot, resulting in heightened anxiety throughout the day.

If you think a particularly intense heat wave is to blame for your vivid, uneasy dreams, try the following changes to your routine to improve your sleep.

The ideal room temperature for sleeping is 65°F (18.3°C). Invest in a thermometer to test your sleeping space, or use your smartphone to measure the room’s temperature. That way you know how close you are to your ideal sleep temp.

There are also smart thermometers that you can control remotely so your space is cool when you get home.

Shop for room thermometers or smart thermometers online.

Invest in lightweight bedsheets for the summer. Cotton and linen are both excellent materials.

Tencel, bamboo, percale, and sateen are also known to be heat-wicking. There are also sheets designed to cool you down.

Shop for heat-wicking bedsheets online.

Meditate before bed. If you’ve been exposed to hot temperatures throughout the day, your body may still be reacting to the heat.

Meditation will help you slow down your rate of respiration and heart rate, improving your chances of a good night’s sleep.

Try some breathing exercises before bed to lower your heart rate, calm your body, and potentially lower your core body temperature.

Keep the windows and blinds closed during the day.

If the hot sun tends to beat down on your windows, this can result in a greenhouse effect. Keep your blinds closed to reduce the heat in your home. You can also invest in blackout or light-blocking curtains to guarantee no heating rays slip through.

Shop for light-blocking curtains online.

Invest in a cooling mattress pad.

These little pieces of sleep hi-tech work by actively circulating water through the mattress pad to keep you cool. They also work to keep you warm in winter. Others work by simply elevating the bed with a cooling material, like bamboo.

Shop for cooling mattress pads online.

If you want to keep it low-tech, this is a quick and easy solution. Place a bowl of ice cubes in front of a fan to increase its effectiveness and cool down your room quickly.

Shop for room fans online.

Eat a light meal before bed.

High protein meals can increase your body temperature. Plus, having the oven or stove blazing in the evening will heat up the entire house.

If you’ve noticed that your sleep is disrupted and you’re having some unpleasant dreams, it may be because of the hot weather.

Focus on keeping your body’s core temperature down throughout the day, and try to keep your room as cool as you can during the night.

This can bring relief and reduce your chances of anxiety dreams while you sleep.

Meg Walters is a writer and actor from London. She is interested in exploring topics such as fitness, meditation, and healthy lifestyles in her writing. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, yoga, and the occasional glass of wine.