Winter can be one of the most wonderful times of the year, thanks to the holidays drawing us closer to loved ones, the Christmas spirit surrounding us, and Mother Nature giving us a Winter Wonderland of natural beauty to enjoy.
But this time of year also ushers in less sunlight, tons of food and drink indulgences, and even some increased stress levels. And all of that can end up having a significant impact on sleep quality and quantity.
Given the fact that we all need at least seven hours of sleep per night to be at our best, the winter season can end up costing us pretty dearly in the loss of rest and rejuvenation. Let’s go over how that happens, and what you can do to make sure that you’re not missing out on a good night’s rest during a time of year that you just might need it the most.
1. Winter Means Less Light
According to health and sleep experts, the change of light that comes with winter and the associated time change can have a big impact on the amount of sleep you get and its quality.
Fewer daylight hours during the coldest season throws the body’s natural light and dark clock, also known as the circadian rhythm
, into confusion by telling it that you should be sleeping when you should really be up and about. This can lead to grogginess during the day and less time in bed getting the rest that you need.
Natural light also directly impacts the productions of the pituitary gland, which is responsible for making melatonin, the hormone that regulates the body’s sleep-wake cycle. Less light during the winter causes the body to produce more melatonin, making you feel sluggish and sleepy.
And the lack of sunlight during the winter months can also lead to seasonal affective disorder
(SAD) in some people, causing the winter blues, which tends to initiate depressive episodes that might cause you to want to spend more time indoors alone, getting even less exposure to the natural light that your body needs.
2. Winter Brings Colder Air
We all know that winter means a hike in our power bills due to dropping temperatures and an increased use of our central heating systems. But did you know that manufactured heat can have some undesirable effects on your sleep quality?
When the air in your home is too warm or dry, like it is when the heating system kicks on, it causes the drying out of mucus membranes, making you more susceptible to catching a cold or coming down with the flu. This leads to some serious tossing and turning, not to mention the misery of coughing and sniffling your way through the night.
3. Winter Equals Food Indulgences
Starting with Halloween, and all the way through Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's, we’re bombarded with candy and cookies, huge dinners, and tons of celebratory and traditional alcoholic beverages. And these kinds of goodies have a definite impact on the hormone levels in our bodies, as well as our sleep quality.
Leptin, the hormone that is associated with appetite and metabolism functioning, is directly influenced by eating too much of the sugary, high-calorie, high fat, and carbohydrate laden food that comes with the winter season. And changes in your levels of leptin can disrupt your sleep cycle, which can cause even more hormonal changes.
When the sleep cycle is disrupted, we end up craving the very kind of foods that caused the disruption in the first place, creating less sleep and even more cravings, and placing us in a vicious cycle of hormonal imbalance and poor sleep.
7 Quick Tips for Better Sleep This Winter
So what can you do to make sure that you spend your winter nights getting the rest that you need, and avoid the sleep issues that come with the coldest months?
Follow these simple but effective tips to get more sleep this winter:
- Set (and stick to!) a bedtime routine
- Keep the temperature in your bedroom to be cool and not too dry
- Ditch the electronics at least an hour before bed
- Make sure to get in some physical activity during your day
- Keep the hour before bedtime all about relaxation
- Get some natural light exposure each and every day
- Try to avoid food in the last few hours before turning in for the night