As for individual health guidelines, human variation makes giving any specific number almost impossible—and borderline irresponsible. Different temperatures will suit different people differently. At the same time, a range like “60 to 67 degrees” can feel nebulously broad. It’s less satisfying than a single number, and it doesn’t solve the bed-partner argument. So I will say this: 60 degrees is the correct temperature for winter sleep. Anything warmer is incorrect.
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If 60 degrees is simply intolerable, physically or existentially, the National Sleep Foundation recommends sleeping in socks or putting a hot water bottle at your feet. Or maybe wear a warm hat, which also prevents bed head. Regulating the temperature of just your feet or head is more precise than adding blankets, and more efficient than trying to regulate an entire room. (In truth, you could go much, much colder on the thermostat by simply adding more clothing and blankets. I’ve slept very well while camping in frigid weather with the right sleeping bag. I’ve also felt on the brink of death in similar circumstances with the wrong sleeping bag.)
A final caveat is the little matter of summer. Should people use vicious amounts of air-conditioning to get the temperature down? Definitely not. Summer sleeping is not as ideal, and many people do report getting worse sleep then. But it’s possible to sleep well outside that ideal temperature range. A lot can be accomplished with a strategically placed fan. It’s also definitely possible to train oneself to sleep without covers—without a sheet, even.
Anyone who shares a bed with you may not be immediately comfortable sleeping a few degrees colder. It’s not a subject to be broached aggressively. But as in most cases of habit alteration, gradual change is sometimes the key to making the impossible possible. Maybe try dropping the thermostat by one degree a week for the next four weeks. Like easing your way into a tepid swimming pool, before you know it, you may develop a new sense of normal.
If not, you can go back to burning lots of energy and spending lots of money. But if it works, the collective result of just a few degrees of change could mean significant benefit to the economy, personal and public health, and the environment—not to mention the sustainability of romantic and nonromantic bedroom-sharing arrangements.
“Paging Dr. Hamblin” is for informational purposes only, does not constitute medical advice, and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. By submitting a letter, you are agreeing to let The Atlantic use it—in part or in full—and we may edit it for length and/or clarity.