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5 Tips for Sleeping in a Room with No Air Conditioning

Our bedroom has no air conditioning. It’s got a ceiling fan and a radiator, so most of the time this isn’t a big deal. But every now and then during the summer, it gets so hot in there (especially if we’ve been sparing in our use of the living room a/c unit) that it’s almost impossible to sleep.

We could buy a second unit, but we’d have to pay $100/month more in our rent since the apartment building pays our electric bill. So we soldier on and do the best we can.

Here are some tips based on how we manage to sleep in a room with no a/c:

Tip #1: Don’t. Sleep in the room with the a/c instead. Our enterprising friends actually have an air mattress which serves as their alternative bed when it’s just too hot. They set it up in the living room and sleep quite comfortably.

Perhaps we should look into that an air mattress is much cheaper than an a/c unit (plus power!). For now, it’s the couches or the floor. I have a hard time falling asleep, so I’m not very good at doing it somewhere other than my bed. But Micah takes to it like a baby. So some nights I’ll hear him carrying his pillow out to the living room and that’s the last I see until morning.

Tip #2: Use fans (and channel the air). We have a nice ceiling fan above our bed. If we didn’t, we’d definitely need a large floor fan. A floor fan might not be bad anyway.

Micah also sets up air channels sometimes, by arranging blankets on furniture in an attempt to direct the air into our room. I’m not sure if this works, but I do know a friend in a house with no a/c who would set up a sheet above her window-fan to make the air blow directly on her bed.

Tip #3: If you’re wearing a top, make sure it’s sleeveless. I’ve done some experimenting and it appears that spaghetti-straps are the way to go. Even a very thin t-shirt will leave you much warmer than a thicker one that covers only a couple millimeters of your shoulder. Sleeveless (but shoulder-covering) is ok, but not optimal.

It can make a huge difference.

If you’re a guy, you can just go shirtless, but girls may not feel that comfortable doing it. So avoid the sleeves if you have to wear a top.

Tip #4: Think ahead, cool it down. One of our biggest problems is not airing out the room ahead of time. If you haven’t been in there all day, it’s probably a good idea to start the ceiling fan an hour ahead of time. Maybe even open the windows if the temperature outside is cooler than what’s built up during the day.

Tip #5: Take as much off as you can without discomfort. Some people can take it all off, others feel weird without some clothes. If you’re ok with disrobing in theory but it doesn’t feel right when you try it, here’s a tip I learned during the 2003 European heat wave (while in un-air-conditioned hotels in Italy):

Take as much off as you can and use a thin sheet. This will keep fans from blowing directly on your skin. It also helps you to feel covered. And the sheet (I believe ours are a very light cotton-poly) may be lighter than the shirt/shorts you were wearing.

Bonus tip: If you’re wearing socks, take them off! Socks are my secret weapon for staying warm in bed in the winter. They’re also death to my summer sleep.

Living without a/c isn’t the most pleasant experience, but we’ve found ways to cope. Do you have a/c in your bedroom? Have you always? I’d love to hear other tips that might help us get more sleep this summer.

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{ 36 comments… read them below or add one }

A.J. July 10, 2008 at 11:05 am

Tip #6: No spooning!

QL Girl July 10, 2008 at 11:20 am

Our AC was actually broken not too long ago, and while my parents wanted to die I did ok…this is in spite of the fact that my room is the hottest one in the house (its true…I blame it on the sliding doors). I did it by:
1- Closed the window blinds during the day!!! When I left them open it would be A LOT hotter when I got home and that lasted well into the night.
2- I have one mini fan (one of those you can mount on the wall…I forgot the brand, but its cheap and super strong…about $10 at walmart). I simply placed it across the room and pointed it directly at where I would be sleeping. I actually almost got cold with the fan, but sleeping with a light sheet helped.

I didn’t try this, but maybe taking a cold shower or washing your hair with cold water right before would help. (It won’t work if you need to blowdry your hair though…thats a no-no when you have no AC)

Definitely no spooning, lol.

Ron@TheWisdomJournal July 10, 2008 at 11:28 am

I second the cold shower idea! That and a box fan helped me out when I spent a summer in Central America where no one had AC.

mrsmicah July 10, 2008 at 11:36 am

@AJ, yeah, definitely no spooning.

@QL, we have blackout curtains in the bedroom which really help!

Tracey July 10, 2008 at 11:40 am

1. Mist yourself with cool water from a spray bottle a few times under the fan.
2. Have the light sheet thrown over your lower torso and hips, but not your lower legs and feet.

RacerX July 10, 2008 at 11:40 am

A tower fan is a great investment. The cool pretty darn well, most now have a temp setting so that it blows as hard as it has to, and they are even remote controlled. We got ours at Home Depot on sale for $49, and it has been a god-send!

Little Miss Moneybags July 10, 2008 at 11:43 am

I have no AC (by choice) and though my boyfriend does, we use it only on the very hottest of nights (higher than 90 indoors/80 outdoors at 10 p.m.).

My tips:
Take a shower before you go to bed. It doesn’t even have to be a cool shower, but washing the day’s sweat off you does wonders for making you feel better.

Learn how to sleep naked and/or without a sheet. It really does make a difference. This was difficult for me for a long time, but it was worth learning to do.

When it’s super, super hot, wet your hair with cold water and go back to bed. Sure, it means more time in the morning washing or fixing it, but sometimes you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do.

Set up several fans to really circulate the air or use an oscillating fan. I prefer two fans, one oscillating and one stationary or one ceiling and one floor fan to really get things going.

Get rid of any fluffy things you can. Feather beds, egg crate mattresses, and other thing under your sheets can trap heat. I’d rather sleep on a firm surface than a hot one.

Kacie July 10, 2008 at 11:53 am

If it’s cool outside but hot in your bedroom, shut all the windows in your apartment except for one in your bedroom and one in a nearby room (such as a living room or something).

Put a box fan facing OUT in the other room and turn it on. It should create an exhaust effect, and pull cool air in the other opened window–the one in your bedroom.

Shut all doors except for the one leading from that room and your room and see how that does.

It works really well for us if we need to cool a room off.

SP July 10, 2008 at 11:59 am

I don’t have A/C in my apartment, but the climate is pretty temperate so it hasn’t been a problem. It always is cool enough outside at night.

I have a box fan, which I used to set in front of the balcony door to blow cool air in. My smart boyfriend set it up in the small kitchen window, blowing the warm apartment air out, which in turn forces cool air to flow in through the balcony door. I was amazed at what a difference that made. I was skeptical at first about “creating a low pressure situation”, but i had to admit he was right.

I just saw above commenter recommend this same thing.

Ben Rasmusen July 10, 2008 at 12:06 pm

Great tips! My family and I recently moved to Hawaii from Colorado so the change in temperature and humidity has been pretty drastic. Fortunately we have ceiling fans and A/C units in all the rooms in our condo, but with energy prices being what they are, especially in Hawaii, we have been looking for alternative ways of cooling off at night. I hope to implement some of these tips and see if we can’t find relief.

We have been experimenting with opening and closing windows during the different temperature changes throughout the day and using our A/C units’ fan instead of the full blown A/C so far we’ve been able to keep our house a reasonable temperature without running the A/C for more than a couple of hours a day, during the hottest times of the day.

Kristen July 10, 2008 at 12:29 pm

We don’t have air either, but we do have a window A/C unit in the bedroom. We decided we could suffer while watching tv, but not while sleeping. πŸ™‚

One trick that works really well when it’s just too darn hot is to blast the window A/C in the bedroom and set up a fan in the doorway facing out into the living room because the bedroom leads into the living room. The cool air from the bedroom is pulled into the living room. It really helps.

Frugal Dad July 10, 2008 at 1:08 pm

I think the idea to use fans to push the cold air into the bedroom is a good idea. Frankly, I don’t know how you do it! I absolutely cannot sleep if it gets above about 75 degrees in the house. I am a human radiator and have to have it very cold at night to sleep comfortably.

heartbeat July 10, 2008 at 1:45 pm

at my house (hot and humid mississippi), we have central air however the thermostat does not go below 80 in the summer…we have and use ceiling fans year round 24/7, and we close the vents and doors of unused rooms. we also have homemade blackout blinds at all the windows. we stay cool and comfortable this way and we can still wear our pjs and a sheet to cover up with if we want to. we use this same basic system in winter with heating and it works just as well.

Canadian July 10, 2008 at 5:21 pm

We don’t have air conditioning either. On hot humid nights I do the following: 1) take a cold shower right before going to bed (yes, I get my hair wet too), 2) when my hair is short enough, tie it into a ponytail so it is not in my face making me hot, 3) wear as little as possible and made of light weight material (I like seersucker), 4) remove blankets, 5) turn on ceiling fan, 6) turn on floor fan, 7) sometimes I don’t even have the sheet on me.

Funny about Money July 10, 2008 at 8:13 pm

LOL! Brings back memories: The first dorm I lived in had no air-conditioning–in the low, hot desert of Tucson, Arizona.

It did have concrete floors and double-sash windows.

Everyone would open their windows and their room doors–rooms were directly across the hall from each other. Then we would put a fan in one window & turn it to high so it would blow directly through the room and into the hall, creating a vortex of steady wind.

Each girl would then strip to her bra and panties, throw a sheet on the cool concrete floor, & use that to lie down on. Concrete stays amazingly cool even in very hot weather. We were strangely comfortable with this arrangement. (Ah, youth!)

One night I woke up to see a man walking by in the hallway–it was a cop patrolling the dorm. What an eyeful he must have gotten! πŸ˜€

A way to make the breeze from a fan cooler is to dampen a light cotton towel and hang it across the front of the fan.

Mikala July 10, 2008 at 9:12 pm

two suggestions from an Aussie Summerhater:

hang a wet towel or sheet over the open window – any air circulating through the window should be cooler

get a kewlthang
i have one, but hubby wont let me use it, so it has been wetted, but never used!! Anyone want to buy it for $50USD or best offer? they are over $100Aussie dollars with postage from the website!


Sara at On Simplicity July 11, 2008 at 2:17 am

I love tip #1! We’ve had really good luck with ceiling fans–they really make the room more comfortable. And extra fans (the portable kind) create a wonderful ambient noise that is pretty soothing.

Some folks I know have had luck with sleeping at the foot of the bed during the summer, so they get the full benefit of the cool air coming off the fans.

Claire July 11, 2008 at 6:33 am

If you own your own home invest in some top quality insulation. It requires some money upfront, but is well worth it in the long run, the difference is amazing. Will also cut your energy bills noticably, so will pay for itself. One trick I also used to use as a long time sufferer of Australian summers: pull your bed off it’s frame and sleep with the mattress on the floor. It’s a lot cooler down there!

Cath Lawson July 11, 2008 at 6:37 am

Hi Mrs M – I don’t have air con, as it rarely gets that hot here. When it does, I put an industrial fan at the top of the stairs and one at the bottom.

Even when I’m visiting the States, I try to use a fan more than the aircon. Every time we use aircon, we wake up freezing at around 3am.

MITBeta @ Don't Feed the Alligators July 11, 2008 at 9:09 am

Great tips!

Regarding tip #4: A ceiling fan is only effective when people are IN the room. Moving air in an otherwise closed room does not make it cooler — in fact it heats it up due to the heat of the fan motor and friction of the fan blades. Ceiling fans should really only be run when people are under them or when they actively contribute to exchanging air with a space that’s cooler. That’s why we prefer window fans with thermostats.

mrsmicah July 11, 2008 at 9:53 am

@MIT – I agree, not with a closed door. We open the door to the bedroom and try to let the air circulate with the cooler apartment. A window fan would help even more than that, but sometimes it’s still hot enough outside that we don’t want to pull in that air.

Mrs Micah's Mom July 11, 2008 at 11:05 am

I’ve seen ads for fan covers that are made of a gel which you freeze before putting the cover over the fan. They are somehow shaped to let air blow over the gel into the room. Has anyone tried one?

Regarding showers, I’ve heard it’s best to use a lukewarm shower. A cold one will start your body heating up to keep the internal temperature right.

Emily July 11, 2008 at 4:46 pm

I was just in four countries in Europe for two weeks and didn’t have AC in a single place I stayed. In the UK it was quite cold, so it actually felt great with the windows cracked open (and a few nights we actually had the heat on). In Germany, the weather was very mild, so no AC was fine. But in France — oh God, it was so hot! High 80s most days. The hotel room had no fans and the heat was awful. I had to sleep in my underwear with a wet rag on my forehead. The noise was bad, too, since everyone had their windows open. Never again will I stay in France in the summer in a hotel with no air! I’m glad you guys at least have a ceiling fan and window unit. No AC at all is cruel.

Money Blue Book July 11, 2008 at 9:47 pm

How about sleeping in the basement if you’ve got one? It always seems to be cooler down there

mrsmicah July 11, 2008 at 9:58 pm

@Money Blue Book – It’s a good case for moving into a basement or 1st floor apartment, as long as the flood risk is low. We’re on the 3rd/top floor which is probably the hottest. You can actually feel it get hotter in the stairwell. (or cooler if you go to the basement to do laundry).

Frugal Vet Tech July 11, 2008 at 10:04 pm

Our AC is in our living room, so our bedroom gets rather toasty sometimes. We also try to run the C as little as possible since it’s pretty energy inefficient and therefore expensive to run. The heat doesn’t bother me much, but Husband cannot sleep if its’ too hot. He always sleeps with a fan. If it’s hot, sometimes he’ll mist himself with water or put a cool cloth on his face. If the bedroom is just too hot, he will turn the AC on in the living room and sleep out there. We have a futon and a full-size mattress. He’ll put the mattress on top of the futon and then sleep like a baby.

Our apartment is on the west side of a brick building so it heats up like, well, a brick oven, on sunny summer afternoons. To help keep that from happening, we shut our blinds and windows in the morning, then after the sun goes down/it cools off, we open them back up and put the fan in the window to blow in some cool air. Works fairly well on all but the most hot days (like today – temps in the 90s with dewpoints in the 70s).

Susan July 12, 2008 at 11:48 am

πŸ™‚ I had to giggle when I read your first tip: “Don’t!”

This summer we’ve been able to turn off the a/c at night and open up the windows, and that works very well to keep us comfortable. We have a ceiling fan too which helps We’re also looking into a whole house fan, which would be excellent at cooling the house in the evenings!

fathersez July 14, 2008 at 3:26 am

Just to chip in and say how lucky we are living in a equatorial climate country. Yes it is humid, but rarely so hot that we cannot sleep.

We have an AC in the bedroom that we rarely use, usually the stand fan is enough.

(My wife rejected all ceiling fans in the house, as they were too messy to clean.)

hank July 14, 2008 at 10:41 am

I actually was considering writing a very similar article to this one as we just did buy an A/C unit for the bedroom; for which I’m VERY happy with!

It was a day when I was strolling through the lovely local Home Depot and the guy hit me up sitting next to the A/C units and told me about how easy they were to setup, price was good, it was the LAST one too – so I bit. And I must say, I’m quite happy with the purchase.

I’m always a guy that has liked to sleep in the cold air. I hate sleeping in warm conditions – ever since I was young I’d sleep with my window open, even when it was cold outside and could see my breath while I slept, I just caked on the bedding in that instance.

But Tip #6 is “Wind down time” – you get hot and sweaty by moving around a lot in the heat. Sit in your A/C or where ever is cool for 30 or 40 minutes and don’t move around. Just sit there and let your body adjust to the temperature. Going in hot is going to conserve hot, keep it cool!

sara l July 22, 2008 at 5:50 pm

My current city is essentially a desert, so we tend to have 30 degree swings between night time low/day time high. At night we just use a box fan in the window and rarely turn on the AC.

I lived in DC for 2 years with no AC in the house. I used an oscillating fan that covered the length of the bed, kept cool fabrics on the bed (and pj’s), and when possible opened doors/windows to create wind tunnels. I think the key with a fan that isn’t pulling in cold air (didn’t exist in DC) or a ceiling fan is to have it as close to you as is safely possible. The other thing that helped was drinking a lot of ice water.

Now that I think about it I also spent 5 months in Ecuador (not in the mtns) and used a similar strategy.

sandy July 4, 2009 at 11:32 am

Cold showers help big time, and every time I eat ice cream, I get cold and can lower my thermostat. I have gained a few pounds..

Michael October 7, 2010 at 2:26 am

i designed a little something in my basement, first i bought a solar panel to slap on my roof for the power, second, i took copper waterpiping and shaped them into a decent coil, i then have the solar panel going into a battery, then into a pump, that keeps cold water pumping through the copper piping, i have this setup in my basement, and ive sealed it up,, i have duct fan that is mounted to the side of my creation, and it blues the cold air into the furnace which then carries it throuought the h ouse, with this technique ive been able to completely eliminate all the window ac’s in the house, when its 90.F outside, its no more than 75.F on my second floor without ac

air water heat pump November 4, 2010 at 10:16 pm

I agree with the majority of the poster’s opinion. While, after searching information on air water heat pumps in recent days, I find that in the field of heat pump water heaters, “wave” is an excellent brand. Just google “wave heat pump” to see something valuable.

My2p July 19, 2012 at 5:15 pm

BTW, any idea why most U.S. apartments and homes have the A/C in the living room, instead of the bed room? I am clueless as to why a country like the U.S. which is so systematically and sensibly built in most aspects, did not figure this one out.

FrugalCat August 28, 2013 at 11:01 pm

Stick one (only one, this for some reason does not work with both) foot out from under the sheet.

Daphne January 20, 2016 at 3:04 pm

I agree the fans are too messy to clean. I have 2 fans in my home.

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