Medically reviewed by
Dacelin St Martin, MD
Triple board-certified in Sleep Medicine,
Internal Medicine, and Pediatrics.
Many people claim that wearing socks to bed helps them sleep better. And science agrees.
Most of us think that sleepwear (or lack of any) is purely for comfort. But whether your jammies are your ultimate hug after a long day or getting into bed naked with nothing but the bedsheets wrapped around you is more your thing – there is a more intuitive reason.
It’s body temperature regulation, a critical function in how our bodies set the stage for a good night’s rest.
Mammals have adapted behaviors around this type of temperature control. Building nests and curling up are observed activities that assist with thermoregulation during sleep.
Therefore, it would stand to reason why humans use clothing and other comfort items to achieve the same thing.
Core Body Temperature, Skin Temperature, and Sleep
Our core body temperature (which is the temperature of our internal organs) is regulated by our circadian rhythms. These rhythms act as an internal clock that, among other things, also regulates sleep-wake cycles that roughly follow the 24-hour day.
Skin temperature also plays a prominent role in how body heat is conducted during rest and how sleep quality is affected. The two types of temperatures work together to create a proper sleep environment.
Core body temperature drops naturally with sleep onset and continues during the non-rapid eye movement (NREM) stage. Conversely, a rapid decline in core body temperature makes falling asleep quicker and easier and can help reach the deeper stages of sleep.
Somewhat paradoxically, though, the warmer a person’s skin temperature, the more the core body temperature drops. This reaction is due to the dilating effect that warm temperatures have on blood vessels near the skin. When these vessels are expanded, more heat can escape the body.
This effect is likely why manipulating the environment of heat-conducting body parts like the feet (such as by wearing socks or taking warm foot baths before bed) can be an effective sleep aid.
So, You Put On Socks, and That’s It?
For most people, that can be it. However, some tips could be helpful here too.
1. Socks that are not too tight are recommended, so items like compression socks should only be worn at the recommendation of your health practitioner. Keep the socks comfortably loose.
2. One study found that participants who wore sleepwear made of wool fell asleep in half the time it took for those wearing cotton or polyester, which would be an excellent consideration for nighttime socks too.
3. If you have a sleep disorder such as insomnia, wearing socks to bed may offer another angle of potential relief, but it likely won’t resolve the root causes at work here; you will probably benefit from Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia (CBT-I) much more.
What’s the Takeaway?
Sleep disturbance in adults with no other health concerns is often linked to the thermal environment.
Humans, being the most adaptable mammal of them all, have been using various types of sleepwear (pajamas, nightcaps, footwear, etc.) for a long time to regulate skin temperature, which in turn helps regulate core body temperature for better sleep, so using socks to help with that isn’t necessarily something new.
However, for most healthy individuals with no underlying health issues, wearing the right kind of socks at night could help you ease into a great slumber.
- Harding, E. C., Franks, N. P., & Wisden, W. (2019). The Temperature Dependence of Sleep. Frontiers in neuroscience, 13, 336. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnins.2019.00336
- Murphy, P. J., & Campbell, S. S. (1997). Nighttime drop in body temperature: a physiological trigger for sleep onset?. Sleep, 20(7), 505–511. https://doi.org/10.1093/sleep/20.7.505
- Chow, C. M., Shin, M., Mahar, T. J., Halaki, M., & Ireland, A. (2018). The impact of sleepwear fiber type on sleep quality under warm ambient conditions. Nature and Science of Sleep, 11, 167-178. https://doi.org/10.2147/NSS.S209116