During winter, one fact seems counter-intuitive: Long nights aren’t always restful nights.
Some aspects of winter can actually keep you awake, causing sleepless nights and drowsy days. Sleep deprivation – the lack of restful sleep – affects how well you function when you’re awake. Sleep deprivation can lead to memory impairment, poor job performance, and motor vehicle accidents.
Good winter sleep habits can help you get a better night’s sleep when the sun dips low and temperatures even lower.
Get more light. Light tells your brain that it’s time to wake up. And morning light helps regulate your biological clock and keep it on track. Try to get some light exposure every day; your body clock is most responsive to sunlight between 6:00 and 8:30 am. Direct sunlight for at least 30 minutes – preferably outdoors – is best. Can’t get enough sunlight? Consider a light box; just 20-30 minutes per day can give your brain the light it craves.
Keep the thermostat low. Your body temperature naturally goes up slightly in the daytime and back down at night, reaching its low just before dawn. A drop in body temperature signals your body that it's time to sleep. So, as tempting as it is to be warm and cozy, you’ll actually sleep better in a cooler room. When the air is too warm or dry, it saps the body’s mucus membranes and makes you uncomfortable – and more susceptible to illnesses like colds and the flu.
Get some exercise. Try to get physical exercise every day; exercise increases the quality of sleep. Vigorous exercise in the late afternoon or evening may have the most benefit, because your body temperature drops lower than normal about four to five hours after your workout. (Don’t exercise right before bed; it stimulates your heart, muscles, and brain – just when you want them to relax.) Take the stairs during the day at work; if you can get outside, go for a brisk walk.
Change your eating habits. Winter can bring hearty dishes, and a lot of carbohydrates. When you eat a heavy meal at night, your body has to work harder to digest the food, which may keep you up at night. Try to eat 4-5 hours before you intend to go to bed.
Set a routine. Try to relax before going to sleep. Turn off your electronics an hour or two before going to bed. Create pre-sleep rituals to give your brain some time to calm down – a warm bath, some gentle yoga stretching, a few minutes of reading. Try to stick to a regular sleep/wake schedule. Altering your sleep too much on a Saturday or Sunday can reset your weekly sleep cycle, and cause trouble sleeping during the week ahead.
Reach the Sleep Center at (507) 646-1099.