I tried a cooling mattress pad to help me sleep better—here's what happened
Is the Chilipad the cure for sleeping hot?
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Sleeping, for most of my life, was never much of an issue for me. I’d tuck myself in, close my eyes, and off I’d go to the Land of Nod. But last year, my previously unencumbered sleep faced an unexpected obstacle: occasional night sweats.
This doesn’t make me special. Many people deal with (suffer from? endure?) nightly perspiration, according to the American Osteopathic Association, for an assortment of reasons that range from excessive heat in the bedroom to eating too many spicy foods before bed. Besides, I had a decent air conditioning system that kept dampness at bay—that is, until I got a new job and moved to a 50-year-old house in Cambridge, Mass., that, for all its vintage charm, lacked central air.
This is how I landed upon the Chilipad Sleep System.
What is the Chilipad Sleep System?
The Chilipad Sleep System is a mattress pad that connects, via a long, flat tube, to a temperature-regulating cube. To use it, you pour water into the cube (more details on that in a moment) and set a temperature from a dial on the cube or a remote control that comes with it. The cube's temperature range is 55 to 110 degrees Fahrenheit (or 13 to 43 degrees Celsius), so you can make it cooler or hotter while you sleep. The cube is where the magic happens, heating and cooling water (depending on what the user wants when they sleep), before pumping the temperature-controlled water through the tube into the pad, which is filled with smaller silicone tubes.
On its website, the Chilipad’s manufacturers claim sleeping on it increases sleep quality, makes users refreshed during the day, banishes night sweats, and reestablishes “natural rhythms” (this one is from a video testimonial from guy who wrote a book called “Paleo Manifesto”). The price for all this was what I thought was a pretty steep $499 for a half of a queen-size pad that covers one side of the bed, for when just one bed partner suffers from temperature-regulation issues, and up to $1,199 for a California king with two separate temperature settings. Armed with a company budget specifically designated for purchasing products so we can test them out, I decided order one—the half queen size—so we could see for ourselves.
How do you set up the Chilipad?
Setup was time-consuming, and a little confusing, thanks to a sparse instruction manual. I had to peel off my sheets from the bed, place the pad on the side of the mattress I usually sleep on, then re-make the bed—pretty straightforward for a mattress pad. Then, I had to fish a thick, wide tube out from under the mat (an umbilical cord, in a sense) and plug it into the control cube, about the same size as a space heater.
This is where I ran into a problem. The way my mat was packaged, the tube was tucked along the underside of the mat and, based on what I saw in the instruction manual, I thought it was supposed to stay that way. So, when I connected the pieces, the portion of the tube that projected from the head of the bed was too short to allow the cube to rest on the floor without tipping over. I needed some way to elevate it. My bedroom isn’t tiny, but I don’t have a ton of surface space—my nightstand is full and my dressers are quite tall—so I improvised by bringing my desk chair over to the foot of my bed and placing the cube there. This worked fine, but didn’t look great, and made it hard to navigate around my room.
The final step: filling the cube with the water. This part is slightly tedious, because first you pour in 12 ounces of water, then plug in the cube to a power outlet, wait a bit, then pour in small amounts until the raindrop that flashes on a screen atop the cube stops flashing. The instruction manual recommends distilled water for “optimum performance,” which I didn’t have on hand. Instead, I used water from a Brita filter, which, so far, has yet to make the cube combust. (Chilipad probably recommends distilled water due to the potential mineral deposits in tap water that could eventually clog up the machine. I figure most people don’t have a stash of distilled water, and the company probably figures that, too, considering it also sells a cleaning solution for the cube.) Then, the water from the cube travels through the cord, which snakes through a series of smaller tubes within the pad, and that’s when the magic happens.
What does the Chilipad feel like?
Something that struck me was how easy the temperature is to customize. There are two buttons on top of the cube, a snowflake and a flame, for making the temperature go in the direction you want and, for good measure, the temperature in degrees flashes on a small screen when you push a button.
As I sat down on my bed and flipped through the temperatures, I was pleasantly surprised by how responsive it was, even if I just made a couple-degree adjustment (it should be, but such things aren’t guaranteed). It did feel a little strange to have a cold sensation coming from beneath me instead of from the outside air, which is what I’m used to feeling in autumn and winter. But once I got used to where the cooling was coming from, it felt fantastic—or, at least, I think it did. I fell asleep moments after lying down.
When I woke up, I felt less fantastic. I was sweat-free, but the tube that kept the cold water coursing beneath me, which had felt so nice as I’d drifted off, had pressed into my lower half in the night (or rather, my lower half had pressed into them). It wasn’t painful, exactly, just crampy around my hips and thighs, like the feeling you get when you leave your legs crossed for too long. I entered a routine of falling asleep on the pad and waking up with a dent on my leg or hip—or, if I’d had the subconscious foresight to save myself some aches and pains, curled up in a ball on the (sweatier) side of the mattress that wasn’t covered by the Chilipad.
This was user error, because of the way I'd left the tube tucked under the pad during setup. After a few days of sleeping in discomfort, I turned to a YouTube video to figure out how to set it up correctly. Once I did so, and rotated the mattress pad and yanked out the tube, it reduced the comfort issue, though I can’t help but think it should have been a little easier to figure out—a “head” and “foot” label on the mat (to identify how to orient it) would have sufficed.
Even still, I still didn’t love the way the pad felt on the bed. It wasn’t as actively uncomfortable, but I could still feel the shape of the water "capillaries" beneath me. That said, people in reviews on Chilipad’s site seem to like the feeling of the pad, so I could be alone in not being wild about it. But if you're anything like the princess and the pea, it may not be your jam.
Is there a reason to get the Chilipad?
This product is a few steps away from becoming something phenomenal. It clearly works for its intended, marketed purpose: keeping a bed at a certain temperature as you sleep. But, even when I got the pad set up the right way, I didn't like the feeling of the mat, nor did I like having a cube connected to my bed and taking up floor space. It's not huge, but if you already have things like a dehumidifier, fan, or space heater in your room, adding in the Chilipad cube could create a cluttered look. These two things make it difficult for me to justify its $499-plus price tag.
So, if the company finds a way to simplify and streamline the cooling cube setup, I’d be all in. Until then, I think the decision on whether or to buy one depends on three things: If you have air conditioning, whether you're a hot sleeper, and if you and your bedmate agree on the ideal sleeping temperature of a room. If you have central air (or even an effective window unit), you don’t need this pad—just a cooler setting on your current system. But if you, like me, only have a fan and an open window at your disposal, and often find that your bed becomes bog-like with sweat in the night, it could change your life—or, at least, the way you sleep.
Prices are accurate at the time this article was published, but may change over time.