Like any time of the year, winter can affect a healthy sleep routine. Short days and long nights make us eager for cosy, quiet, and restful evenings. For many people, winter evenings spent indoors with a blanket and cup of tea help us slow down and relax. However, sleeping well in winter can be a challenge for many – but it doesn’t have to be.
Why is Sleep Affected in Winter?
Your circadian rhythm, which regulates your body clock, is maintained by exposure to light. In winter, when days are shorter and evenings creep into afternoons, light is scarce, and your body clock can be thrown off. When your circadian rhythm is off course, you can be left feeling sluggish, low-energy, and tired – even after eight hours of sleep. Find out more about your circadian rhythm here.
Below, you’ll find some handy tips to sleeping well in winter.
Let The Sun Shine
It’s easy to flick on a light on the dark mornings, but a lack of sunlight means that your brain produces more of the hormone melatonin, which makes you sleepy. The best way to combat this is to open your blinds or curtains as soon as you get up in the morning, letting more sunlight into your home. It’s also a good idea to get outdoors in natural daylight as much as possible. This is easier said than done when you work in an office, so even taking a brief walk during your lunch break will fend off that afternoon sluggishness. Make sure that your work and home environments are as light and airy as possible.
Get a Good Night’s Sleep
Getting enough undisturbed sleep is vital for fighting off the winter blues. It’s tempting to go into hibernation mode when winter comes, but that sleepy feeling that you have doesn’t mean you should sleep for longer. If you sleep too much, chances are that you’ll feel even more sluggish during the day. Although you might find yourself needing an extra hour or two of sleep in the winter, we don’t actually need any more sleep in winter than we do in summer. Aim for the recommended seven to nine hours of shut-eye a night and try to go to bed and get up at the same time every day, including the weekends.
You should also make sure that your bedroom helps you feel relaxed and sleepy; clear the clutter, have comfortable and warm bedding, and turn off the TV. Keeping away from screens an hour before you go to sleep is a great way for sleeping well in winter.
Exercise is probably the last thing you want to do when you’re feeling tired on dark, cold winter evenings. However, you might be surprised by how energetic you feel after doing some kind of physical activity every day. Exercising in the late afternoon may help to reduce early-evening fatigue, and it’ll also improve your sleep. Aim for the recommended hour of exercise per day.
If you’re not used to exercising regularly, try a beginner’s class at your local gym to find what you enjoy. You can also go for a walk with your furry friend, or try to gather a few friends for a game of indoor tennis.
If you struggle to find motivation for exercising in the colder, darker months, focus on the positives – you’ll feel more energetic, and you might also stave off winter weight gain!
You can read more about how exercise helps improve your sleep in our article, ‘Five Ways Exercise Helps You Sleep‘.
With the shorter days, we can feel the pressure to get so much done in so little time. This stress can contribute to your tiredness, as stress has been shown to make you feel fatigued.1 There’s no quick solution for stress, but there are some simple ways to reduce it. You can try meditation, yoga, breathing exercises, or mindfulness techniques, which you can read more about here. Exercise also helps you to reduce your stress levels, or even talking to a friend or family member will help. A problem shared is a problem halved, right?
Being overweight or underweight can affect your energy levels and leave you feeling sleepy, so make sure you eat a healthy, balanced diet. When winter comes, it’s tempting to fill up on pasta, potatoes, and bread. However, simply including fruit and vegetables in your comfort meals can give you more energy. Winter vegetables, like carrots, parsnips, and turnip, can be roasted, mashed, or made into soup for a comforting, warming winter meal that all the family can enjoy. Plus, classic stews and casseroles are great options if they’re made with lean meat and plenty of vegetables.
Your sweet tooth might go into overdrive during the winter but try to avoid foods high in sugar in the evenings, as they could give you a rush of energy.
Find the Cosy Temperature in Bed
When you’re sleeping, your internal temperature drops slightly. So, if you get too hot, your body will struggle to bring its temperature back down. This can wake you up, and you might struggle to get back to sleep. However, make sure that the temperature isn’t too low, as being cold can also interfere with your sleep. The ideal room temperature for night-time is around 16°C to 18°C, with the absolute maximum being 24°C.2 Keeping a steady temperature will help to ensure that you won’t wake in the middle of the night, letting you enjoy an undisturbed sleep.
While it’s normal for all of us to slow down over the winter months, your tiredness could be linked to a sleeping disorder. Sometimes a lack of energy and a feeling of lethargy can be a sign of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). You can read more about this in our topic here. If your tiredness is severe and you experience it all year round, you could have chronic fatigue syndrome.
If your tiredness is stopping you from going about your everyday life, it’s always important to visit your doctor to find out if there is an underlying cause.