The days are short and the nights are long, but all that darkness doesn’t mean it’s any easier to sleep. In fact, some people have even more difficulty sleeping during the fall and winter months than they do in the summer. Here are some reasons people lose sleep as the temperatures drop and some solutions to help you get some shuteye.
The shortening days actually directly affects your body’s circadian rhythms and your desire for sleep. You are naturally programmed to start feeling tired once it gets dark and to wake up with the light. As it gets dark, the level of melatonin, a hormone that helps regulate sleep, in your body increases. Unfortunately, modern inventions like electric lights, curtains and alarm clocks have changed our sleep habits. We trick our brains into thinking it stays light much later than it does. While your body may want to go to sleep by 8 p.m., your brain thinks it’s much earlier because of all the artificial light we’re exposed to. Since your circadian rhythms are completely out of order, it can make it much more difficult to fall asleep.
To counteract too much light in the evenings, try setting a time when you turn your lights down and wind down in darker or softer light. Turn off the TV and stop looking at your cell phone for at least an hour before you go to bed. The blue light from screens can disrupt your sleep even after you’ve gone to bed. If you have trouble waking up on dark mornings, try a sunrise alarm clock. They light up slowly with a soft orange light to mimic a natural sunrise and get your brain to produce chemicals it needs to wake up gently.
Many people also don’t get enough natural sunlight throughout the day in the winter. Even if you’re under bright fluorescent lights in an office all day, they won’t give you the energy that sunlight will. They’re enough to keep you awake longer, but not enough to keep you from feeling sluggish. Winter can be grey and cloudy for days or weeks on end, so getting enough natural light and vitamin D can be difficult. When there is sunlight, get out as much as possible.
Using the heater when the weather is cold can mess with your sleep, as well. Optimal temperature for sleeping is between 68 and 72 degrees. Keeping the room a little cooler will actually help you sleep better. Don’t worry if you feel cold when you get in bed. Your body will adjust to the temperature when you’re sleeping, so there’s no need to crank the heater all night. Use a few light layers on your bed so you can remove one if it gets too hot to sleep. Hot air can also dry up nasal passages, which could lead to more illnesses like cold or flu. As anyone who’s ever been sick knows, trying to sleepwith a cough or a stuffy nose is almost impossible.
Lastly, heavy Winter and Fall foods can make it harder to stay asleep. You may feel full and sleepy after that chicken potpie or all the turkey and mashed potatoes, but you’ll have a hard time staying asleep. Your body will be digesting it for hours after your meal. If you’re going to eat something heavy, make sure you have dinner at least a few hours before you go to bed.