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How to Sleep Better With a Fever (9 Ways)

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  • Article written and researched by Dr. Albert Stezin (MBBS, Ph.D – clinician and neuroscientist) to ensure uniqueness and maximum factual accuracy.

A fever is a response to pathological stress like the flu, an infection, or cancer, and a fever can make it harder to get to sleep and stay asleep.

So how do you get better sleep when you have a fever?

To get better sleep when you have a fever: take paracetamol, try home remedies, address underlying disorders, avoid medications with stimulants, keep the room between 60-70 F and 30-50% humidity, use cooling bed sheets and a cooling mattress, and using cooling systems (fans, air, water).

The rest of this article expands upon these techniques in greater detail so that you can sleep better when you have a fever.

However, although this article was written by a qualified doctor to ensure maximum factual accuracy, it’s no substitute for personal medical advice – always consult with your own doctor first if you feel unwell.

Related article: does DayQuil keep you awake? (5 ways to sleep better when sick).

9 Ways to Sleep Better With a Fever

Below are 9 techniques that you can use to sleep better when you have a fever:

1: Control Your Temperature

Use a thermometer to assess your temperature periodically. 

If at any time, your temperature rises to more than 100.4°F (38°C), you have a fever.

1.1: Rest and Stay Hydrated

To break a fever, stay in bed and rest.

Keep yourself hydrated by drinking water, diluted juice, or soup.

This will help you to replenish the fluids lost by sweating and other means.

Alternatively, you can suck on ice chips if you have nausea or vomiting and cannot keep fluids in.

1.2: Avoid Ice-Cold Baths – Use Safer Cooling Methods

Tepid baths and cold compresses can cool you off.  

However, refrain from ice-cold baths and alcohol rubs as they are potentially dangerous. 

Don’t use extra layers of clothing and blankets, unless you have chills. 

1.3: Take Paracetamol or Ibuprofen

You may also use over-the-counter medications such as acetaminophen (paracetamol) or ibuprofen to reduce the body temperature.

They have to be taken at an appropriate time and dose for the best results.  

Do not take these medicines with other drugs or alcohol without consulting your primary care physician. 

Refrain from giving aspirin or ibuprofen to young children due to the risk of complications.         

1.4: Visit Your Doctor or the Emergency Room

High-grade fever can often cause seizures and altered sensorium, especially in young children and the elderly.

Hence it is imperative that temperature be tightly controlled. 

If the above steps don’t help, visit your doctor or an emergency care service.

2: Use Home Remedies

Home remedies can be combined with medicines to help break a fever and sleep better.

You should exercise extreme caution while using home and herbal remedies, especially when combining them with medicines due to increased chances of side effects or lack of therapeutic effect.

If in doubt, rely on your doctor’s judgment.

Below are several home remedies for fever and better sleep that you can try:

i) Willow Bark, Thyme, Linden Flowers, Chamomile

Herbalists recommend drinking willow bark tea or tea made with thyme, linden flowers, and chamomile when you have a fever.

They have anti-microbial and anti-inflammatory properties which can help fight infections and bring down your body temperature. 

ii) Garlic

Garlic has antibacterial properties that can help fight fever.

Eat 4-6 crushed garlic cloves directly or take it with curd, if the flavor is too intense for you.

In addition to fever, garlic is also useful in the treatment of cough and flu.

iii) Ginger

Ginger has been known to cure many ailments.

Due to its anti-microbial and anti- properties, ginger is used in both Chinese and Indian medicine.

Practitioners of Ayurveda recommend drinking ginger tea or ginger-lemon tea regularly to keep fever and the common cold away. 

Try substituting sugar with honey or stevia for added benefits.

iv) Cinnamon

Cinnamon can relieve throat irritation, cough, and cold. 

You can add cinnamon to your tea for its flavor, aroma, and taste in addition to health benefits.

v) Basil

Basil is effective in bringing down fever.

Take about 10-20 basil leaves and boil them with 1 teaspoon of crushed ginger.

Use honey as a sweetener and drink two or three times a day till you feel better.

You can replace basil leaves with cilantro leaves for the same effect.

3: Treat the Underlying Condition (If Appropriate)

A fever may be a symptom of the flu, whilst in other cases, it may be due to a more serious underlying condition that should be treated appropriately.

Fever may be associated with disorders of the respiratory, gastrointestinal, urogenital, cardiovascular, and nervous systems.

There may be infectious, immunological, endocrine, or drug-related in etiology. 

In most cases, a fever is not a standalone symptom and is associated with other symptoms depending on the organ system involved.

Below are some of the more serious conditions that can potentially result in a fever:

i) CNS Disorders

Central nervous system (brain and spinal cord) disorders can cause fever, neck stiffness, seizures, headache, visual disturbances, and confusion. 

These disorders tend to be highly aggressive and require immediate care.

ii) Respiratory System Disorders

Involvement of the respiratory system may cause different symptoms depending on whether the upper or lower respiratory tract is involved.  

Lower respiratory infections can manifest as fever, cough, breathing difficulty, mucus production, and chest pain.

Upper respiratory tract infections affect the ear, throat, nose, and sinuses and cause nasal discharge, headache, fever, and a sore throat.

iii) Genitourinary Disorders

Genitourinary disorders can cause a burning sensation, blood in the urine, abnormal discharge, urgency, and pelvic pain or back pain along with a fever.

iv) Gastrointestinal, Circulatory, and Skin Disorders

Involvement of the gastrointestinal system causes diarrhea, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, and blood in stools.

The circulatory system disorders produce breathing difficulty, swelling, chest pain, body aches, chills, weakness, or confusion.

Skin disorders cause redness, warmth, swelling, pus, or pain at the site of the involvement.

These symptoms, if severe and uncontrolled, can negatively affect good sleep.

While Googling your symptoms may provide a list of differential diagnoses, rely on your doctor’s judgment for the best course of action.

The most common differential diagnosis of fever is an infection and has to be managed with antibiotics and/or other medicines.

4: Avoid Medications With Stimulants

One of the most common causes of fever is the seasonal flu.  

Most over-the-counter flu and cough medicines have active ingredients such as pseudoephedrine, caffeine, or dimenhydrinate to decrease secretion in the respiratory tract.

While they are great at their intended function, they are also implicated in sleep dysfunction.

Pseudoephedrine and caffeine act as stimulant drugs and gives a temporary high that can cause difficulty in falling asleep.

Dimenhydrinate, on the other hand, can cause an idiosyncratic high in some people whereas it can induce drowsiness or sleep in others.

Few of these medicines may also have alcohol in them and can cause fragmented sleep.

Discuss with your primary health provider regarding the potential adverse effects of specific combinations of medicines.

If you have previously experienced side effects with specific combinations of medicines, it is worth mentioning those to your doctor and avoiding them completely. 

If no alternative combinations are available, use them earlier in the evening rather than at bedtime. 

5: Make Your Sleep Environment Comfortable

When you have a fever, even the slightest discomfort may appear intolerable.

You may feel hot and sweaty or have chills with shivering.

You may want to toss and turn every other second.

Light, sound, and smell may feel unbearable.

Getting that optimal sweet spot is imperative if you are to sleep well.

5.1: Keep the Room as Dark as Possible

Switch-off the night lights and draw in dark shades and curtains to block light. 

While many previous studies have reported colored lights to promote or allay sleep, this type of research is still in its initial stages and requires more proof. 

I advise you not to experiment and keep your bedroom as dark as possible.

Use a comfortable sleep mask or blindfold to achieve the same effect even in a bright room.

See my article that shows you 19 ways to black out your room here.

5.2: Keep The Room Temperature Between 60 and 70F

When you have a fever, your body temperature may fluctuate by few degrees at night.

However, you should resist the urge to crank up or down the thermostat unnecessarily.

The room temperature should ideally be set at 60-70 F for optimum sleep.

If you are unsure, keep your thermostat toward the cooler side.

5.3: Block Out Unwanted Sounds

Refrain from listening to noisy music.

You may use white noise or soothing sounds to block out unwanted sounds.

Alternatively, you can use earplugs.

Personally, I use the brown noise in the video below to block out sound in the house in the hours leading up to bed time, and then I switch to earplugs once I’m ready to sleep properly.

10 HOURS BROWN NOISE Noise Blocker for Sleep, Study, Tinnitus , Insomnia

5.4: Maintain a Room Humidity of 30-50%

Control your room’s humidity to optimize sleep.

If the humidity is high in your room, the room may feel hot and sticky.

Furthermore, dust, bacteria, and viruses may cling to room surfaces more effectively.

On the other hand, if your room has low humidity, you are prone to develop dry skin, dry eyes, and irritable nose, throat, and sinuses. 

Use a humidifier to avoid these issues.  

Modern thermostats have environment sensors and humidity control that can sense and regulate your room’s microenvironment very closely.

However, if you don’t have one, invest in a humidifier.

They are quite cheap considering the important role they play.

Ideally, you should keep the relative humidity of your room at 30 to 50 % (a lower humidity can prevent your bedroom doors from sticking too).

6: Use a Thermoregulatory Mattress

Thermoregulatory mattresses are specially designed to keep you cool throughout the night.

They are useful not only when you have a fever, but also if you suffer from night sweats related to menopause and other disorders such as hyperthyroidism, tuberculosis, or lymphoma.

These cooling mattresses are usually made from springs, latex, bamboo, gel foams, and/or memory foams.

The Awara is an excellent cooling mattress that’s also great for restless sleepers.

Alternatively, you can buy a cooling mattress topper for a cheaper alternative.

i) Spring and Hybrid Mattresses

Springs are the more traditional options available in the market.

Thermoregulatory mattresses made of coils and springs reduce heat by allowing air circulation through the product.

Hybrid mattresses contain a mixture of springs and a secondary material like latex or memory foam in the top layer – offering comfort, support, and cooling capabilities.

The Puffy Lux Hybrid is my #1 rated hybrid mattress – see why in my Puffy Lux Hybrid review.

ii) Latex Mattresses

Latex mattresses are eco-friendly, breathable, durable, and hypoallergenic.

Furthermore, they are also poor conductors of heat which can help maintain a cool, comfortable temperature.

Most latex mattresses also have inbuilt pinholes and aeration mechanisms which make these mattresses very breathable.

iii) Bamboo Mattresses

Bamboo mattresses are relatively new in the market and offer many advantages.

They are very breathable, gentle, and have moisture-wicking properties.

They are also poor conductors of heat which makes them well suited to remain cool even in hot temperatures.

Their hypoallergenic property also makes them very safe for people with allergic disorders.

Bamboo bed sheets are also excellent options for staying cool and dry at night.

iv) Traditional Memory Foam

Traditional memory foams are not as effective as thermoregulatory mattresses at keeping you cool and may in fact cause you to sleep hot and sweaty.

However, in recent times, innovation using graphite and copper infusion gels and the use of phase change materials have made efficient thermoregulation a possibility for more modern memory foam mattresses.

The newer memory foam mattresses also have open cell designs and gel infusions which do not retain heat and work as great cooling mattresses.

You may consider investing in one of these comfortable mattresses if you are thinking of purchasing one, whether you have a fever or not.

7: Use Cooling Bed Sheets

If you feel that thermoregulatory mattresses are out of your budget range or if you already have a mattress, you may use cooling bed sheets as a pocket-friendly alternative.  

The best cooling sheets are typically soft, dry, and moisture-wicking.

Commercially available cooling sheets are made of cotton, linen, silk, bamboo, or Tencel.  

Below is a list of the best cooling bed sheet materials. 

i) Cotton

Cotton is a natural fiber and is commonly used as a cooling sheet due to its fine and soft nature.

Cotton is also very breathable and absorbing.

Cotton is often combined with other fibers to take advantage of their unique properties.

Due to a variety of methods of manufacturing and weaving available, it is an extremely versatile choice for cooling sheets.

ii) Linen

Linen is obtained from the flax plant.  

It is a strong fiber with superior absorbent properties than cotton.  

It is also cooler, more breathable, and lasts longer than cotton.

These properties make linen a more obvious choice for cooling sheets compared to cotton.

iii) Tencel

Tencels are viscose materials and are typically made of rayon or lyocell.

They are recyclable, eco-friendly, and resemble silk but are more breathable and moisture absorbing.

iv) Bamboo

Bamboo has gained a lot of popularity due to its eco-friendly nature.

Bamboo bed sheets are cooling and can help to wick away moisture to keep you cool and dry.

See the best cooling bamboo bed sheets to buy here.

v) Mulberry Silk

Silk is a natural protein known for its beautiful luster, durability, and has a smooth feel.

At first touch, silk is very cool and is often portrayed as a great material for a cooling sheet by manufacturers. 

However, silk can also be warming too.

Look for mulberry silk bed sheets to help keep you cool and stay away from synthetic silk satin sheets.

See the best silk bed sheets to buy here.

Go For a Percale Weave

Recently manufacturers have used composite materials using bamboo, silk, microfibers, cotton, and linen to customize fiber properties.

In addition to the material used, the manufacturing process also makes a lot of difference in the properties of the fabric.

The best fabrics for making cooling sheets are Percale and Sateen fabrics.

Percale fabrics are inexpensive and has a standard plain weave.

It is medium weight and is firm but smooth, without any glossiness.

They also have a crisp, cool feel and are very durable which makes them a good fabric for cooling sheets.

Sateen fabric has a satin weave structure and is made with spun yarn instead of filaments.

The satin weave structure makes it very smooth and luxurious.

However, they are prone to losing their softness and color in long run.

They also do not breathe as well as Percale.

Despite these, its softness and cool feel make it a viable choice as cooling sheets.

Satin fabrics and Jersey knit fabrics have properties such as lustrous feel and smoothness.

However, they do not have any moisture-wicking properties and are not preferred materials.

8: Use Active Cooling Systems (Fans, Air, Water)

Compared to cooling sheets that passively dissipate heat, active cooling systems actually bring the temperature down.

They are more effective bed coolers and are useful for hot sleepers, people experiencing hot flushes, night sweats, and anyone living in hot climates.

The cooling systems can be broadly classified into three types: bed and pillow fans, air-cooled systems, and water-cooled systems.

More details below:

i) Fans

Bed and pillow fans simply blow air under your sheet and circulate cool air around your body.

Although they do not actively decrease the temperature, they are still very popular as they are cheap.

ii) Air

Air-cooled systems are similar to the bed and pillow fan with the exception that they actually cool the air before pumping it into the bed.

The main advantages include instantaneous cooling, automated control of temperature, and manual override.

iii) Water

Water-cooled systems use cooled water instead of air to decrease the temperature. 

Chilled water is pumped through small tubes embedded in a pad placed on the top of your mattress.

They can control the temperature very precisely.

9: Stock Your Nightstand

When you are feeling under the weather, you do not want to get out of bed frequently.

Keep your nightstand well stocked and close by.

Have a bottle of water, cough drops, lozenges, an inhaler, a box of tissues, an extra set of blankets and pillows, and medicines for fever and pain/headache at an arm’s reach.

Also, keep a book or magazine handy if you have trouble falling back asleep.

You can also try these 12 relaxation techniques to get to sleep faster.

How a Fever Affects Sleep

Below is a short guide that explains what a fever is and how it can affect your sleep:

A Fever is an Increase in Temperature Above 100.4°F

A fever is an increase in the core body temperature and temperature set-point (in the brain) in response to stress – clinically defined as a temperature above 100.4°F.

Fever is different from hyperthermia or malignant hyperthermia since it is a regulated increase in the temperature as opposed to an unregulated rise in body temperature due to the body’s inability to eliminate heat adequately in hyperthermia.

The elevation of temperature set-point during fever occurs in response to stimuli such as infection, inflammation, neoplasm, drug reactions, or autoimmune diseases.

Once the set-point is elevated, mechanisms such as shivering and muscle contractions are activated to increase the heat production and metabolic rate.

This causes fever.

See a Doctor When Complications Arise

If your body temperature is more than 103°F or you have had a fever for more than 3 days, you should call your doctor.

However, you should also see your doctor if you have any of the following problems: severe throat swelling, breathing difficulty, diarrhea, vomiting, headache, stiff neck, confusion or disorientation, seizure, severe pain, rashes on the skin, decreased urine output, or coughing blood.

The presence of these additional symptoms suggests serious underlying conditions and has to be evaluated at the earliest opportunity.

In addition to these symptoms, if you have AIDS, cancer, heart disease, diabetes, are pregnant, or you are on immunosuppressant drugs for any reason, you should call your doctor for a detailed evaluation.

A Fever Can Reduce Sleep Quality

Sleep is composed of two stages – NREM and REM sleep.

NREM sleep and REM sleep constitute 75-80% and 20-25% of the total time spent in sleep, respectively.

In terms of energy expenditure, compared to REM sleep, NREM sleep utilizes less energy.

When you have a fever, the energy demand of the body increases due to the elevated metabolism and temperature.

It is estimated that for every 1°C increase in temperature, the mean increase in metabolism is 13%. 

To reduce the energy expenditure, the sleep architecture is altered.

The predominant change in sleep architecture is the increase in the amount of time spent in NREM sleep with a concomitant decrease in REM sleep duration.

Furthermore, NREM sleep is also fragmented with frequent awakening from sleep. 

Another added advantage of increasing the NREM sleep duration is that during this phase of sleep, the body has a superior ability to produce heat by shivering as well as mounting a fever response.

Sleeping During a Fever is Beneficial

You should try to sleep as much as possible when you have a fever.

The benefits of sleeping during fever are mostly immunological in nature.

The immune system fights infection using proteins called cytokines. 

These chemicals are part of the sleep biochemical regulatory network and are released during sleep.

Hence, sleeping well during fever can help mounting an immune response.

In addition to this, sleep also helps to conserve energy and can help the immune system to function more efficiently.

The lack of sleep, on the other hand, is known to make you more susceptible to illnesses and prolong the recuperation period.

Sleep For as Long as Your Body Tells You To (With Caution)

You should try to sleep as much as your body signals you to rest. 

Provided that you eat and drink well, if you find yourself sleeping all day, you should not worry. 

However, if this phase continues beyond the period of fever – or if your fever doesn’t seem to be improving – you should consult your doctor.

Because sleep mimicking states (described below) can be very dangerous.

Beware Sleep-Mimicking States

Sleep mimicking states are all potentially dangerous and require immediate attention.

Systemic infections can affect the brain and cause sleep mimicking states which you may falsely identify as ‘increased sleep’.

You should also know the difference between sleep and sleep mimic states such as drowsiness, lethargy, and coma which are as follows:

Drowsiness

Drowsiness refers to the state of feeling abnormally sleepy.

It is often so severe that you may fall asleep in at inappropriate time or situation.

Lethargy

Lethargy refers to severe drowsiness from which someone can be momentarily aroused with a physical stimulus but drifts back after a short while.

A patient with lethargy coupled with a lack of interest in the environment and slow response may be obtunded and require urgent care. 

Stupor

A person may slip from a state of obtundation to a state of stupor.

Stupor is a state when one responds only to vigorous and repeated physical stimuli and would lapse back immediately.

Coma

If a patient cannot be aroused despite sufficient stimulation, the patient may be in a state of coma.

A Fever Can Cause Strange Dreams

Many studies have reported an increase in dreams during episodes of fever.

These dreams are called ‘fever dreams’.

Fever dreams are different from regular dreams – they are usually bizarre and negative, have fewer dream characters and interactions, and maybe about health-related topics or heat perceptions.

A study reported the predominant themes of fever dreams to be moving walls, abnormally sized creatures, and threats such as attacking dogs, big spheres, and insects.

However, a large majority of patients do not recall the content of dreams but are aware of their bizarre nature. 

Fever dreams are believed to be in response to the perceived daytime negative emotions and transient cognitive impairment during fever.

An Infant With a Fever May Cry More and Refuse Feeding

Infants and neonates may feel warm to touch without having a fever.

This is particularly common after playing, crying, and coming in from hot weather. 

In most cases, their temperature would return to normal within 20-30 minutes.

If in doubt, use a thermometer to measure their temperature (after 20 minutes or so).

Your child has a fever if his/her rectal, ear or forehead temperature is 100.4° F (38.0° C) or higher.

Other associated symptoms of sickness in a child include being fussier than usual, incessant crying, decreased alertness, and refusal to feed.  

If you feel your child is sick, call your pediatrician, regardless of the temperature.

A Fever Can Cause Seizures in Children

Children often have seizures/ convulsions with a fever (called a febrile seizure).

This is more common in toddlers between 12-18 months but can happen anytime between 3 months and 6 years.

Convulsions happen when the temperature spikes quickly rather than due to the high temperature itself.

This means that your child can have febrile seizures even at a threshold temperature of 100.4◦F. 

Usually, the seizure is over within a minute or two but maybe prolonged by as much as 15 minutes. 

They can manifest in many different ways: shaking and twitching all over the body, eye-rolling, unresponsiveness, bleeding from tongue or mouth due to bites, and loss of bowel or bladder control (in older children).

How to Deal With a Febrile Seizure

If your child has a febrile seizure in front of you, follow these steps:

  • Stay calm.
  • Move your child to a safe place to prevent your child from injuring himself/herself.
  • Roll him/her to their side to prevent your child from choking on saliva.
  • Do not put anything in your child’s mouth or try to control the seizure.
  • Call the emergency services if the seizure has lasted for longer than 5 minutes (source).

After the seizure, your child may be irritable, sleepy, cranky, or confused for a few hours – this is normal.

Call your emergency response team (eg. 911) if the seizure lasts more than 5 minutes or if your child has trouble breathing or is turning blue, is vomiting incessantly, has a stiff neck, or has rashes that don’t go away when pressed.  

Almost 35% of children with febrile seizures can have a recurrence of seizures.

Your doctor may prescribe anti-seizure medicines for use in times of fever. 

Conclusion: Use a Combination of Treatments

The most effective ways to sleep better when you have a fever are taking paracetamol, regulating the room temperature (60-70 F), keeping the humidity at 30-50%, blocking out unwanted sounds, using a cooling mattress, and sleeping under cooling bed sheets.

Always talk to your doctor if your symptoms persist or worsen.

Up next: 20 ways to get to sleep after a breakup.


Sources and References

[1] Michael Schredl, Daniel Erlacher. “Fever dreams: An online study” – retrieved on 24th March 2021.

[2] Harvey R. Colten and Bruce M. Altevogt. “Sleep Disorders and Sleep Deprivation: An Unmet Public Health Problem” – retrieved on 7th March 2021.

[3] Richard Henker and Karen K Carlson. “Fever: Applying Research to Bedside Practice” – retrieved on 16th March 2021.

[4] Web MD – What is a Fever – retrieved on 12th March 2021.

Medical Disclaimer

No part of this article or website provides medical advice – seek medical attention as soon as possible if you feel unwell.

Image Attribution and Licencing

Main image: ‘Sick Woman Lying on Bed Holding Thermometer’ by AndreyPopov (Getty Images) – used with permission under the terms of Canva’s One Design Use License Agreement.

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