I provided a little interview material for a recent article over at diylife.com, which has garnered quite a few comments. The most amusing of them was a guy who accused us of doing this only to save money in order to spend it on drinking more beer (which is funny, because we’ve actually been drinking less beer this winter.) But here is an interesting comment thread:
“Autumn said… I think this is a bad idea. You could go to sleep one night and not wake up due to freezing to death. I have lived without heat before because of frozen pipes so I know you can get comfortable enough with warm clothing and lots of blankets but I think this is a dangerous thing to try.
Kelly said… Who ever froze to death at 52 degrees?
Justin said… It’s called hypothermia..and you only need your body temperature to drop to 95 degrees before it may not be able to be reversed. You may very well go to sleep and not wake up. Temperatures need not be below freezing for this to happen.”
This did get me thinking (after I stopped laughing, of course): Is it likely, or even possible, that one could go to sleep euthermic, become hypothermic while sleeping, and perish without waking?
I’ve done a lot of outdoor activities in cold weather. I have been mildly hypothermic, have been with people who were considerably hypothermic, and have known people who have died of hypothermia. So I don’t take the topic lightly. Certainly it can and does happen that people become hypothermic, fall asleep / lose consciousness, and never wake up. If you are already actively hypothermic, and your house (or igloo, or snow cave) is cold, I don’t suggest going to sleep. I suggest staying awake and trying to get warm.
But my experience says (and a bit of research confirms) that an otherwise healthy person cannot go to bed warm-enough and then just die of cold in his sleep. If you’re okay when you go to sleep, but start to get too chilly while sleeping, the first thing that happens is: you wake up, feeling cold!– so that your brain can do something about the situation before it’s too late. Well before your brain becomes addled by cold, your body will start shivering violently enough to awaken you. Indeed, if you’re feeling rather too chilly (but not seriously hypothermic), it’s pretty hard to get to sleep in the first place– which is a protective mechanism.
The fatal sleep that drags over hypothermic people after their body temperatures have dropped so low that their brains no longer function properly is a whole different story that unravels after your body’s defense mechanisms are exhausted. But if you go to sleep not-hypothermic, you will not just drift off into hypothermia and perish without waking up and having a chance to do something about your situation first.