How Does the Change in Seasons Affect my Sleep?

How Does the Change in Seasons Affect my Sleep?

It’s evident by now that winter is well on its way in Michigan. The calendar might not indicate it quite yet, but the weather sure does.   

With the change in seasons comes some necessary changes in lifestyle. But one part of life that should always hold steady is a good, consistent sleep pattern.  

More substantial scientific research is needed, but studies show that sleep is found to be longer in the winter and shorter in the summer due to increased day length and temperature in the warmer months.  

Below are the primary ways our sleep is impacted by the transition of the seasons.    

Cooler Temps  

The thermal environment around you is one of the most important variables when it comes to sleep. Your indoor temperature affects the quality of REM (rapid eye movement) sleep.  

Sleep experts say temps between about 60 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit are optimal for a night of good, deep sleep, which is strongly considered the most essential stage of sleep. This temperature window ensures that your core temperature won’t dramatically rise as you sleep, as an increase in body heat can sometimes trigger the body to wake up.  

Obviously, cooler indoor temps are more attainable during the winter when it’s colder outside. If these low temps are a bit too chilly for your liking, try bundling up under multiple blankets or wearing added layers of clothes.  

Loss of Sunlight  

Any time your exposure to sunlight is reduced, your circadian rhythms are affected. Circadian rhythms are mental, physical, and behavioral changes that follow a 24-hour cycle. They are your internal clock, regulating how alert or how sleepy you are.   

The impact of the sun’s shorter shifts is two-fold when it comes to your sleeping patterns: You lose more time with the most natural source of vitamin D there is, the sun, and your melatonin levels increase due to the lack of daylight.  

Melatonin is a hormone that your brain produces in response to darkness, one that helps with the timing of your circadian rhythms. As your brain produces more of this hormone, you may find yourself unusually drowsy or sluggish in the early evening.  

Research shows that vitamin D deficiency is associated with a higher risk of sleep disorders and contributes to fewer hours asleep, as well as a more restless overall night’s sleep. 

To combat the lack of sunlight, try soaking in the sun during the mornings and afternoons. If you’re still working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic, get out of the house for a quick walk or two.  

If you can’t fit a walk into your work schedule, consider setting your home office up near a window. A Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine study showed that people exposed to more sunlight during the workday enjoyed a higher overall sleep quality than people in windowless work environments.  

Drier Air 

Air that is too dry can make it more difficult to breathe at night. The air is already drier in the winter as is, and sometimes cranking up your indoor heating system can make matters worse, as your thermostat tends to kick up clouds of dust and allergens that can irritate your sinuses when inhaled.   

Consider buying and using a humidifier to negate this issue, especially if the seasonably dry winter air is making your skin, eyes and nasal passages dry or causing respiratory issues. Humidifiers can help fight off those issues, which in turn can make for a better night’s sleep.  

Five More Tips to Help Improve Your Sleep in the Winter 

  • Stay physically active during the winter.  
  • Add more vegetables and fruits to your diet and don’t eat big meals late at night. 
  • Take a warm bath a couple of hours before bed to lower your body and skin temperature.  
  • Stick to the same sleeping schedule on weekends. 
  • Invest in breathable bedding or buy fleece or flannel bedsheets.   

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Photo credit: Getty Images

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