As fall comes to an end we all know what’s coming next. Some of the cruelest and coldest months of the year are right around the corner. Due to an increasing elderly population more people are dying from hypothermia than ever before.
We’ve all heard the adage “Don’t Fall Asleep in The Cold”, but is falling asleep in the cold actually dangerous? Hypothermia kills over 600 Americans per year so there must be some truth to it. Does sleeping in the cold actually increase your chance of freezing to death?
Can you freeze to death in your sleep? People will almost always wake up shivering instead of freezing to death in their sleep. It’s only possible if they’re already severely hypothermic and badly suffering from the cold. It won’t just happen out of nowhere.
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Can You Freeze to Death While Sleeping?
Hypothermia is a result of cold weather exposure during the winter months. One of the first symptoms of hypothermia is drowsiness, which is where we get the notion that you might freeze to death in our sleep.
Every year climbers on Mount Everest choose to take a nap near the peak and never wake up. This is a telltale sign of hypothermia, because no rational mind would take a snooze that high up. So it’s no surprise that outdoorsman are afraid to fall asleep in the frigid cold.
So does sleeping increase your chances of freezing to death? Yes you can freeze to death while sleeping, but only if you’re already badly suffering from the cold. Unless you’re already severely hypothermic you won’t freeze to death in your sleep.
You Won’t Be Able to Sleep
In the early stages of Hypothermia it will be nearly impossible to sleep. No matter how deeply you sleep the uncontrollable shivering is going to wake you up. There’s no sleeping through the early stages of hypothermia.
When you start to notice the early signs of hypothermia you need to do something to increase your body temperature. Get up and try to get your blood flowing. Experts recommend running around, doing jumping jacks and layering up before laying back down.
Sleep Deprivation Hurts Decision Making
It might be tempting to stay up through the night in very cold situations since sleeping is very difficult. That’s actually a really bad idea. In a survival situation it’s important to stay rested, since fatigue will lead to poor decision making.
So it really is a mistake to avoid sleeping in a survival situation. Unless you’re in the deep stages of hypothermia.
Rarely Occurs at Home
Elderly are at increased risk of freezing to death, but it’s fairly rare. Unless you’re trying to battle subzero temperatures without power it’s almost impossible to freeze to death at home. It takes extreme cold to die of hypothermia.
Where people get into trouble is slipping on the ice and getting trapped out in the cold wilderness. Get hit by an unexpected storm on a winter camping trip and you’re in a mess of trouble. That’s why hikers should always bring gear that’s rated 20 degrees below what they expect.
When Does Hypothermia Occur?
Hypothermia occurs when your core body temperature drops below 95 degrees. Considering our normal temperature is 98.6 it doesn’t take much to drop into the early stages of hypothermia. You won’t risk dying until your core temperature drops below 70 Degrees.
Although you can die of hypothermia when the temperature is between 30-50 degrees Fahrenheit it’s fairly unusual (have to ignore symptoms for days). You can last hours when temperatures are between 0-30 Degrees.
Most cases occur when the temperature is significantly below zero. Below -20 Degrees you can die in under 10 minutes without proper clothing. Maybe even faster when wet.
Our body reacts to the drop of core body temperature by trying to protect its vital organs. It starts directing warm blood away from the hands/feet and towards vital organs. Your hands and toes will start to go numb(frostbite) and you’ll lose dexterity.
Shivering is another way to warm up our body. Shivering forces the body to move burning energy and increasing the core temperature.
Increased Risk of Hypothermia
It’s actually somewhat difficult to die of hypothermia just in the cold air. Most cases of hypothermia are a result of getting wet and ignoring the initial signs. In the cold try to get out of your wet clothes immediately since water quickly saps away your body heat.
Dehydration, fatigue and lack of food will all increase your risk of hypothermia. Remember that not everybody is affected by the cold in the same way. One member of your group can be shivering uncontrollably while everybody else is fine.
Elderly adults and children are at increased risk of hypothermia. They just aren’t strong enough to fight off the extreme cold.
Early Warning Signs
- Numb Hands/Feet
- Complaints of Feeling Cold and Uncontrolled Shivering
- General Fatigue
- Confusion and inability to follow simple commands
Dangerous Warning Signs
- Slurring Speech and Impaired Judgment
- Stumbling/falling and loss of body control
- Irrational Violent Behavior
- Loss of Focus and Drifting off
- Coma and Possible Death(if left untreated)
Treating Hypothermia is all about raising the core body temperature. Be aware that not all sufferers will suffer from every one of the above symptoms and conditions can deteriorate quickly.
When treating hypothermia you need to seek shelter immediately. Hopefully you can find a permanent structure, but you might need to construct a temporary shelter. Remove all the wet clothing and put on dry clothing and blankets.
If possible build a fire and seek immediate emergency assistance. Use up all your emergency rations to try to increase the victims blood sugar level. Warm sugary drinks are also a great place to start.