During winter, long nights aren’t always restful nights. Some aspects of winter can actually keep us awake, causing sleepless nights and drowsy days.
Sleep deprivation – the lack of restful sleep – affects how well we function when we’re awake. Sleep deprivation can lead to memory impairment, poor job performance, and even car 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. The decrease in light on short winter days can have a big effect on your quality of sleep. 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. This may be as simple as taking off your sunglasses when you’re not driving. It’s best to expose yourself to bright light during the morning hours; 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 getting a light box; just 20-30 minutes per day can give your brain the light it craves. Many people are able to use a light box at home or on their desk at work.
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 us uncomfortable – and more susceptible to illnesses like colds and the flu. Set your bedroom temperature to be cool and comfortable.
Get some exercise. Try to get physical exercise every day. During the dark cold days after work, it may seem easiest to head right home and hunker down. But research shows that exercise increases the quality of our 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 to our mealtimes. 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. It’s helpful to 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, or a few minutes of reading may help you sleep better. Try to stick to a regular sleep/wake schedule. It may be tempting to sleep in on a cold winter morning on the weekend, or take a long nap in the afternoon. But altering your sleep too much on a Saturday or Sunday can reset your weekly sleep cycle, and cause trouble sleeping during the week ahead.