What’s your sleep uniform? Do you clad yourself in cozy pajamas? Sleep in underwear and a T-shirt? Layer up in sweatpants?
Or do you sleep in the nude?
If one recent survey is accurate, not many Americans are taking advantage of the benefits of sleeping in the buff. In the national survey of 3,700 men and women, only 8% reported sleeping naked, while nearly three quarters—74%—went to bed in pajamas. Let’s take a look at some of the underlying advantages of ditching bedclothes.
It’s not hard to imagine the positive effects that sleeping naked can have on relationships: Sleeping skin-to-skin can enhance feelings of closeness and intimacy, both physical and emotional. Rather than relying on clothing for extra warmth, naked sleepers are more likely to sleep closer together to keep each other warm—and still take a little distance to keep cool. Being naked and physically close in bed together can also make sex—especially the spontaneous, unplanned kind—more likely and more frequent.
Sleeping naked may contribute to greater feelings of happiness in relationships. A survey conducted by Cotton USA, which promotes the use of U.S. cotton products around the world, examined the sleep habits of more than 1,000 British adults. Couples that made a habit of sleeping naked were more likely to report being happy in their relationship, compared to couples who slept clothed.
Skin-to-skin contact triggers the release of oxytocin, sometimes referred to as the “love hormone.” Oxytocin influences emotions that drive social behavior and interpersonal connection, engendering feelings of trust, ease, and stability between partners. Studies have shown that a boost in oxytocin levels makes us more sensitive to others’ emotions (including, perhaps, overly sensitive), and may increase levels of attraction between partners in long-term relationships. Oxytocin doesn’t just promote positive, relationship-enhancing emotions—it also confers benefits to physical health, reducing stress and anxiety levels, and lowering blood pressure.
There are other health benefits that may stem from sleeping in the nude, whether you're with a partner or alone. By helping the body to stay cooler overnight, sleeping naked may help your body increase its stores of brown fat, the type of fat that actually burns energy, in the form of calories, rather than storing it as ordinary fat does. Babies have brown fat to help keep them warm, and recently scientists discovered that adults may also have it, which has led to a great deal of attention about the possible therapeutic benefits in managing weight and avoiding metabolic diseases including type 2 diabetes. We don’t yet know what benefits there may be in manipulating brown fat—there is still a great deal to learn about how it functions in adults, and whether it makes sense to try to increase or activate brown fat for health benefits. Early research suggests that exposure to cold—including sleeping in a cool bedroom—may trigger brown fat to be active in burning calories, and may increase brown fat amounts. Increasing brown fat may in turn help you shed weight and improve glucose levels and insulin function. In addition to keeping the temperature down in your bedroom, the cooling effects of sleeping without clothing may be a way to contribute to improving the way brown fat works in the body.
Regulating body temperature downward, and not overheating during the night, is one clear way to help improve sleep. Body temperature naturally decreases throughout the night, a necessary part of the body’s transition to sleep. Sleeping naked can make it easier for the body to effectively execute this gradual downward turn. Avoiding staying too warm while in bed and sleep—and allowing the body to regulate temperature as it needs—can make it easier to fall asleep and help you sleep more soundly.
Ready to give it a try? Here are 4 suggestions:
- Invest in good bedding and wash it frequently. If you’re sleeping skin-to-sheet, you want that bedding to be comfortable. Use natural fibers such as cotton or silk, and wash and change your sheets frequently.
- Keep your bedroom temperature on the cool side. Some of the benefits of sleeping naked may diminish if you’re stripping down only to sleep in a sauna. What’s more, your sleep can suffer in a room that’s too warm, with or without clothing. For most people, a temperature in the neighborhood of 65 degrees is best.
- Make sure your hands and feet are warm. The body releases heat through its extremities as part of its sleep-related cool down. Having cold hands and feet can interfere with this process. Keep your hands and feet warm in the hours before bed—a shower 90 minutes before bed is one good way—and make sure you have sufficient bedding to avoid becoming cold in your hands and feet during the night.
- Wear as little as possible. If sleeping naked isn’t for you, try to wear as little clothing as you can for your night’s rest. You’ll avoid overheating, and sleep more soundly as a result.
Try sleeping naked before you decide it is not for you. You may be surprised at how natural and comfortable it feels.
Michael J. Breus, Ph.D.