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To sleep with socks, or not to sleep with socks? That's the question

Maybe the thought of constricting your feet overnight doesn’t leave you feeling all warm and fuzzy.

a couple under covers one sleeping with socks and one without Credit: Reviewed / FilippoBacci

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Mention sleeping with socks, and people tend to have a visceral reaction. They either dutifully put them on every single night or can’t fathom going to bed with their feet enshrouded. (Try asking your friends for kicks and giggles.)

We got to wondering whether there was any science to underpin either of those stances. Turn out, there actually is.

Why should you consider sleeping with socks?

a person curled up and sleeping with socks
Credit: Getty Images / stipicaphoto

Sleeping with socks can help regulate your body temperature.

Sleep is fickle. Being too hot or too cold won’t make it easy to doze off. “It's tough to sleep when you are shivering,” says Dr. Chris Winter, a sleep expert and author of The Sleep Solution and The Rested Child.

Dr. Atul Malhotra agrees: “It’s not till the feet warm up that you fall asleep.” According to the sleep specialist and professor of medicine at University of California San Diego, “there's some small clinical studies [that] have shown that if you warm up the feet, with socks and whatnot, that people fall asleep faster."

It’s difficult to pinpoint why cold feet cause sleep disturbances and increase sleep latency (or the time it takes you to doze off). “It's not clear if it's chicken or egg,” Malhotra says. “Whether [it’s] the cold cold feet are uncomfortable and that keeps you awake, or whether as the body goes into sleep that the blood flow improves, feet get perfused better because it's part of the resting phenomena.” Either way: Feet that are too cold could keep you awake, and research has shown it.

According to one research study, cold extremities may correspond to poor vasodilation, or the widening of blood vessels, which typically happens as body temperature drops in the evening. “Indeed, cold feet and the inability to vasodilate may be a physiological cause of some sleep disturbances, particularly in the elderly,” the authors state.

Our bodies run on a 24-hour clock that largely corresponds to sunlight. It tells us when it’s time to wind down for sleep, or wake up for the day. In the healthy population, a nighttime change in circadian rhythm causes “distal vasodilation,” meaning the blood vessels in the feet and hands expand, allowing heat to circulate away from your core and dropping your core body temperature.

Which is all to say: Warmer extremities are a literal sign for your body that it’s getting close to time to go to sleep—which could be why it can be hard to doze off when your feet feel like little popsicles.

Of course, that’s where socks come in.

What type of socks should you wear to bed?

a person asleep with one sock off and another on
Credit: Getty Images / deteetarkan

Avoid wearing compression socks if you're self-prescribing, and opt for a regular pair.

Some swear by no-show ankle socks, while others like crew socks, which come up higher on the calf. Malhotra says that fit is a matter of personal preference and to go with whatever feels best.

You may be wondering about compression socks, which improve circulation throughout the day as you’re standing. Both experts we spoke to say you shouldn’t wear them to sleep. These socks are designed “to keep blood from pooling in the extremities,” Winter explains.

These socks should not be self-prescribed or worn overnight without the input of a medical professional, Malhotra says. This style of sock is prescribed for certain conditions, such as blood clots. “But talk to your doctor, don’t do that otherwise,” he says.

Of course, if you’re having significant trouble falling asleep, it’s time to see a doctor rather than just tossing on a pair of socks as a quick, band-aid solution. Malhotra has seen a number of patients who come in with aching legs that have disrupted their sleep—they’re eventually diagnosed with restless leg syndrome. “The problem is [not necessarily the feet], it might be some sleep disorder,” he says.

Got cold feet? Try sleeping with socks

a person wearing fuzzy socks asleep
Credit: Getty Images / ByoungJoo

If you have cold feet, a basic pair of fuzzy socks will work, as will a pair made from merino wool.

If you’re trying to improve your sleep, you can give wearing socks a whirl. Of course, any old pair will do—though you’re likely better off with something that isn’t too tight. Here are some of our nighttime-sock-donning staffers’ favorite pairs.

  • Sunil Doshi recently started wearing socks to bed, as he heard it could help reduce core temperature. In a short time, he saw a “notable difference” in his sleep based on sleep tracker data. He opts for a pair of Smartwool Crew socks, some of which are made from merino wool.

  • Sarah Hagman says her choice of whether to sock or not depends on the night. She resisted buying into the Bombas trend for quite a while, but now she's officially sold on the popular brand.

  • Kate McCarthy swears by sleeping in socks—doesn’t matter the style or pair. However, she recently purchased a unisex pair of Stance Repetition Crew socks, which she "11/10 would recommend."

  • Esther Bell only wears socks when it’s really cold out—which happens a good bit during Northeast winters. She opts for classic fuzzy socks, like these pairs available at Target.

  • TJ Donegan gets straight to the point: “I like the Columbia wool socks. Not having socks in bed is gross, what are you even doing?”

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