Skip to content

Seeking warmth and safety (6/4/12)

June 4, 2012

Temperature and Life 

How do you help a baby get through a vaccination?  You warm her up.

Because temperature matters a lot.  And that fact also has implications – for adults who are trying to sleep and rest.

Decreasing Pain

Babies, like most human beings, don’t like getting shots – what the British call “jabs.”  They grimace, pull away, and are deeply discomfited when somebody sticks a needle into them – however briefly.

Researchers at the University of Chicago wanted to do what they could to prevent that pain.

So they took 47 infants and gave them an injection – but under different conditions.

One group got a sugar pill – a standard treatment for many.  Others were given a placebo.  The third group was warmed up.

Of those who were warmed up prior to the needle stick, about a quarter cried.

Everyone given sugar alone cried.  The differences between sugar and placebo were otherwise  non-significant.

Warmth gave the babies an easier time in coping with the unknown pain of a shot.  In babies, temperature matters a lot.

That’s also true of adults.


Infants are and remain poikilotherms for quite a long time.  They cannot  control internal temperature.  Put a baby in a cold environment and she will get cold.

That’s probably one reason infants have so much brown fat.  Brown fat “burns” much more quickly than white fat.  It can heat you up quickly.

And babies can’t shiver – so they really need that brown fat.

Just as it does setting up functional biological clocks, it takes a baby quite a bit of time to develop internal temperature controls of the sort we take for granted as adults.

But for part of our lives, we too are poikilotherms, unable to control temperature.  Those times occur while we sleep.

REM Sleep and Temperature

Many marvelous events take place in REM sleep, so critical to body regeneration, learning, and memory consolidation.  But one of these is the element of poikilothermy – the loss of temperature control.

If we’re in REM sleep (complex dream sleep) we adjust to the temperature around us – by cooling or heating to whatever it is.

I realized this fact – without knowing the physiology – when I hiked in the Rockies in my twenties.  Come the early morning I would feel cold and wake up (it wasn’t the best sleeping bag in the world).

Later I recognized what was happening.  The late night included the biggest, longest periods of REM.

Each night I would be in a dream – often a pleasant one – and then suddenly wake up and feel frozen.

Fortunately there’s a use for this fact.

Cooling Off Your Room at Night for Better Sleep

Though all of sleep is important to rest, regeneration, and survival, many ask me how they can “increase” REM sleep.

One method – a hot bath right before sleep, especially when you sweat.

But what about when you wake up? How can you get more REM?

One way to do that, suggested to me years ago by David Avery of the University of Washington, was to lower temperature in the middle of the night.  Many then find themselves “falling” into REM sleep.

Many patients have used this method profitably.  If awakened in the “middle” of the night – not looking at clocks, because this behaviorally conditions them to wake at that clock time – they cautiously tread over to the thermostat.  A few seconds later they lower the temperature by one or two degrees.

Quite a few tell me they sleep far better that night.  They also tell me they wakened more refreshed.

And dream.

Bottom Line:

Temperature controls many parts of our physiology.  For babies, warmth can represent security – real internal security, as temperature control is not easy to obtain.

And in adults, cooling off at night – even in the middle of the night – may provoke better sleep.  Many of us may more quickly find ourselves moving into REM.

As you know, in dreams almost everything is possible.
Rest, sleep, Sarasota Sleep Doctor, well-being, regeneration, Healthy Without Health Insurance, longevity, body clocks, insomnia, sleep disorders, the rest doctor, matthew edlund, the power of rest, designed to last, the body clock, psychology today, huffington post, health, longboat key news

No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: