The rumors are true. Winter is coming, bringing cooler temperature, less daylight and, sadly, less sleep. Typically, people sleep on average about 40 minutes less in the winter, compared to summer so paying attention to healthy sleep habits is key.
If we were bears, we could just hibernate and emerge in the spring. Since that’s not an option for us humans, we need to learn to cope with the change of season and its impact on our sleep. With the big chill in mind, we offer these warm-hearted tips on not just surviving winter, but thriving through it with great quality of rest every night.
Adjust bedroom temperature. While it might be tempting to crank up the heat in the deepest, darkest days of January so you can stay cozy in bed, it’s counter to what your body needs for sleep. Even in the winter, a cool bedroom is more conducive to sleep. Caleb Backe, a health and wellness expert for Maple Holistics, says that the optimal room temperature for sleep is around 65F (18C). Program your thermostat to cool things off slowly throughout the evening so that by the time you slip into bed your body will be ready for sleep. Opening your bedroom window slightly or a fan can also be effective in keeping temperatures cooler throughout the night.
Choose the ideal blanket. While a cooler bedroom will help you sleep better, being cold at night will definitely not help. Backe suggests investing in flannel or silk bedding to keep you cozy. Sticking to your regular cotton sheets isn’t bad, but you could be missing out on a whole other level of cozy and comfy deep sleep during those winter months.
Light has done right. “One of the most important things you need to do during the winter to ensure optimum sleep is to control the lights in your house,” says Backe. Light plays a big role in the timing of our days, as well as our circadian rhythms. “During the winter, there’s not only less light but also a reduction in its quality.” Use artificial light to prolong the day a bit or invest in a sun clock to wake you up ‘naturally’ in the mornings.
Keep up with your sleep hygiene. You might know the basics by now, but they bear repeating. As Dr. Brian Cassmassi, a licensed adult psychiatrist in Los Angeles, points out good sleep hygiene, especially during the winter season, is important. He recommends reserving the bedroom for sleep and sexual activity (i.e. avoid eating or watching TV in bed to avoid having your brain thinking of the room as multipurpose). He also suggests that you avoid TV, watching movies on devices and curbing general screen time at least half an hour before bedtime. The blue light from electronic devices and TV’s stimulates the brain, waking it up for action. As well, avoid caffeine or other stimulants after 2 pm so they have time to metabolize before you’re ready for bed.
Watch out for seasonal affective disorder. It’s not just winter blues when you feel depressed every day, have low energy, feel sluggish and have trouble sleeping. If you’re experiencing seasonal affective disorder from the shorter days, a regular walk outside during the daytime will help you feel more positive and keep your internal clock attuned. If going outside or sitting near a sunny window isn’t an option, consider a lightbox to help brighten your life. If you’re concerned that depression may be settling in, talk to your physician about other alternatives.
Manage your stress levels. Christmas and Thanksgiving are part of our winter traditions, which can often mean an overload of stress and obligations. “When you have downtime, make sure to relax as much as possible and avoid any negative interactions,” says Kimberly Lackey, founder of EMPATH Coaching and an integrative health coach. Eating nutritious foods, getting plenty of water, fiber and taking a probiotic can help keep your immune system healthy during excessive periods of stress or lack of sleep.
“The more consistent you can be with your sleep patterns, the better you will fare throughout the holiday season,” she says. “Setting boundaries with friends and family and taking care of yourself are very important life skills. Use this time of year to give yourself the gift of self-care.”
Treat yourself to a massage. In addition to being great for overall mood and as a line of defense against the winter blues, there’s also research citing how massage therapy can improve our circadian rhythms, according to Tegan Elizabeth, owner, Salt Lake Massage Clinic. Not only are massaging deliciously relaxing, they can help boost your mood and improve overall sleep.
Keep your toes warm. Although a cool room is good for sleep, cold feet can interfere with your ability to fall asleep. If you sleep with a partner, warming toes together can be a relaxing activity before sleep but warm socks and a hot water bottle is effective as well.