If the temperature is blazing hot, sleeping with an ice pack might seem like a good idea. But you must avoid direct skin contact to avoid an ice burn.
There’s a right way and wrong way to sleep with an ice pack and that’s what you need to know before you start turning your bed into a mini-ice hotel. For starters, it’s not completely safe to sleep with an ice pack directly on your head or neck.
Avoid Direct Skin Contact
The seemingly harmless idea to cool down could cause any of the following conditions:
- Ice burn
According to Medical News Today, the worst-case scenario for ice burn is that ice crystals begin to damage your skin cells, which leads to blood vessels constricting, which leads to blood flow problems and possibly a blood clot.
Another problem is that when your body panics from extreme cold, it sends blood to the vital organs, neglecting the less important parts – like fingers, toes, and hands. All of those extremities are susceptible to scarring or even an infection. In rare cases of infection, amputation was the only solution!
Now that is an unlikely scenario, and hey, maybe nothing will become of sleeping with an ice pack overnight…
On the other hand, maybe something will happen because it is entirely possible to get ice-burned from a cold pack left on your skin overnight as you sleep.
That’s why the safe thing to do is avoid direct skin contact and instead wrap the ice in a couple of layers of towel or cloth.
Then, move the ice pack around a few times during the night, to keep from putting too much cold pressure on one part of your body. You might have to set an alarm for this, as you may or may not wake up naturally if you’re in a deep sleep.
If an ice pack is left in the same spot for too long, you could cause permanent nerve damage, a recurring problem among athletes nursing injuries with cryotherapy. At the very least, you’re going to wake up sore with blisters or throbbing skin…not an improvement over a sweaty bed!
Pay Attention to How Your Body Reacts
To avoid skin damage while sleeping with an ice pack, it’s important to pay attention to any possible symptoms indicating blood flow problems.
Emergency physician, Michael Menna, DO, says that before frostbite happens you first feel the symptoms of “frostnip”.
Frostnip causes the skin to turn red or pale, along with a “tingling and prickly sensation.” If you feel these symptoms, remove the ice pack immediately!
It’s also important to avoid numbness, which results from the ice pack hitting the same area on the skin for too long. It usually takes about 20 minutes before the skin goes numb, so rotate the position of the ice back several times a night.
Where to Ice Up
To effectively cool down throughout the night, distribute the ice pack evenly on the “pulse points” and other sensitive-to-cold areas, like your:
- Behind the knees
- Front and back of the neck
Four Alternative Ideas to the Overnight Ice Pack
Idea 1: Frozen Vegetables
If you’re using an ice pack or ice cubes from the freezer, know that freezer ice is well below 32 degrees, which is the point of freezing.
While some athletes recommend using ice packs made with partial alcohol or dish soap – as this keeps the pack colder for a long period of time – if your goal is to fall asleep and stay cool, consider using a package of frozen peas or corn instead.
This ice package will only stay cool for about 15 minutes, which won’t be long enough to cause serious damage. If you’re afraid of ice burn, wear a few frozen vegetable packages (covered with two towels) at pulse points and cool down before going to sleep.
Idea 2: Ice Up Your Sheets!
It won’t last for hours, but hey that’s a good thing. All that matters is that the feeling of ice cold sheets will caress you to some good REM sleep.
Put your sheets in a plastic sealed bag (to avoid moisture) and then let them freeze for a few minutes. Enjoy your “ice pack sheets”, which won’t stay cold as long as an ice pack, hence reducing the risk of ice burn.
Idea 3: Soak Your Sheet and then Wring It Dry
The end result is a sheet that’s damp and cool, easing you to sleep as the water slowly evaporates. No chance of frostbite, but just cool enough to bid you sweet dreams.
Idea 4: Create a DIY A/C with Ice and a Fan
Another variation on the ice pack overnight idea is to blow cool ice air all night, rather than wearing it on you. Simply fill a towel with multiple ice packs, place it on two chairs and in front of a strong fan. Put a container underneath to catch the drip.
This way, you get all the cool misty breeze of an ice pack all over your body, but without serious risk.
Is Sleeping with an Ice Pack Worth It?
Right about the time you make a makeshift A/C is the time you begin to ask, “Is sleeping with an ice pack even worth it?”
Yes, because cooling your body down in some way is what helps you fall asleep in the first place. Your core temperature drops right before sleep and then increases when it’s time to wake.
Dr. Michael Decker, Ph.D., says, “If we lower our body temperature a little bit, we tend to sleep better.”
The ideal temperature for sleep is slightly chilly, between 60-68 degrees. Studies support this, including a 2012 review in the Journal of Physiological Anthropology, which said that heat and humidity directly affect slow-wave and REM sleep, but colder temperatures do not.
I highly recommend using a Classic Brands Cool Gel Pillow (link to Amazon), as an awesome alternative to bringing an ice pack to bed. I tend to overheat while I sleep, so I ended up buying one. I’ve used mine for the past 6 months and have loved every second of it.
Cool Your Brain!
It’s not just body cool down, but actually “brain cool down” as well. A study from the University of Pittsburgh stated that extra brain activity quite literally “keeps the brain too hot to sleep.”
One of the ways Melatonin works is to actually lower the brain’s temperature for you. The cooler you feel, the more melatonin is produced, and the sleepier you feel.
While you must take precautions if you’re sleeping with an ice pack, your instincts are correct: cool down and enjoy a deeper sleep.