January 04, 2017
WINTER IS UPON US, meaning more hours of darkness, carb-heavy food choices, and dry indoor heat. The cold weather and holiday season can contribute to daytime sleepiness in a myriad of ways and make it harder to sleep at night. These seasonal changes don’t have to mean havoc for your sleep schedule, however. A few minor adjustments to your daily routine and your sleep environment can help you sleep through winter like a cozy bear in its den.
While darkness makes for a great sleep environment, you may find that as the daylight hours get shorter, you start to feel sleepy earlier in the evening. That’s because darker conditions prompt your body to produce melatonin, the hormone that regulates sleep. It’s best to stick to a consistent bedtime, so if you find yourself nodding off too early, try exposing yourself to more light. Since natural light isn’t an option, artificial will have to do. Bulbs with a “soft white” or yellowish tone are a better choice than “bright white” or blue-toned light. Just be sure to dim the lights as your normal bedtime approaches.
While the cold winter months make it tempting to crank up the heat and pile on the blankets, science says this isn’t the best sleep environment. In fact, room temperature may be an even more important factor in sleep quality than light levels. The body’s core temperature needs to drop by a couple degrees to initiate sleep, which is why we sleep best during the coldest part of the night. Several recent studies have found that a room temperature of about 65 degrees Fahrenheit is ideal for sleep, and if you use heavy covers, that temperature should be closer to 61 degrees. Just think how much you’ll save on your heating bill.
Even though you want your room temperature a bit on the chilly side, you may want to invest in some fluffy socks to wear to bed. While your core temperature needs to decrease slightly before bed, keeping your feet warm may actually help you get a better night’s sleep.
The naturally low humidity of winter combined with the drying influence of indoor heat can cause a host of uncomfortable symptoms, like itchy skin and painfully dry sinuses, making it hard to fall asleep. A humidifier in the bedroom can help restore a healthy moisture balance to the air – just be sure not to overdo it. A room that is too humid makes it more difficult to breathe, which interferes with sleep quality. For the best winter sleep environment, keep the humidity level at about 50 percent.
Winter is the season of our most food-centric holidays, and people tend to eat more carbs and sugar at this time of year than in the warm months. These foods make us sluggish by stressing the adrenal glands, which can cause various hormonal imbalances including those that regulate sleep. In addition, people spend more time indoors, a two-fold problem: we tend to get less exercise, and we receive less exposure to the vitamin D-producing sun.
To combat these problems, make a conscious choice to include more fruits, veggies, and natural sources of fiber in your diet while cutting back on excess sugars. You may need a vitamin D supplement for the winter, so talk to your doctor about adding it to your diet. Finally, try to get the recommended 30 minutes or more of exercise per day – morning workouts are best for optimum sleep.