By Eric Stengle
We may not have snow and freezing temps in Fort Worth. And, according to the calendar, it’s not even technically winter yet. But, with the time change, Thanksgiving behind us and holiday shopping and parties on our minds, it sure feels like winter. The days are starting to get shorter, and the nights longer, which can affect your circadian rhythm and throw off your sleep routines.
The hustle and bustle of the holiday season is upon us! The last thing you need is to feel drained of energy because you are struggling to adapt to the change of the season. Here are five tips to get better sleep in the winter.
Keep your regular sleep schedule. We will soon reach December 21st, the winter solstice and the shortest day of the year. As we approach this day, we are seeing fewer daylight hours and thanks to the time change, darkness sets in early as far as social times go.
The lack of daylight hours can have a big impact on the way our bodies react to sleep. This is because our bodies use light to regulate our biological clocks. When we spend more time in the dark, melatonin production is extended, shifting our circadian rhythm. For some, these shifts can result in winter depression, a condition known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
Because of the boost in melatonin production, it is common to find yourself wanting to go to bed earlier and/or stay tucked into bed later than other times of the year. However, your job, social life, and sleep health all rely on sticking to your regular sleep routine, regardless of how light or dark it may be outside. Sticking to a regular sleep schedule year-round keeps your circadian rhythm in check and makes it easier to sleep when you should.
Exercise is a must. Physical activity is good for you and your sleep all year, but exercise in winter can be especially beneficial to your sleep. SAD is not uncommon and regular exercise is a natural remedy for depression. Also, regular exercise strengthens your circadian rhythm, which will keep you sleeping and feeling like your normal self this time of year.
When you time your exercise well in the winter, you can get even more benefits. If you find it is difficult to get a move on in the morning, even a short workout can make a big difference in boosting your energy level for the day. If you are crashing mid-afternoon, a little exercise can give you the boost you need to make it through the rest of the day. Residing in the Fort Worth, Texas area, we are blessed with mild winters that make it easy to stay active by taking a short walk through the neighborhood or at a local park. However, you should never exercise within two hours of bedtime.
Avoid nighttime snacking. For many, nighttime snacking is more tempting in the winter months, especially at late night holiday parties. This is, however, one habit you should try to avoid. Consuming food before bed makes it difficult for your body to transition into sleep mode. Digestion can affect your circadian rhythm and there is also the chance you could develop heartburn. It is better to avoid eating within two to three hours of bedtime, but if you must have something, keep it light.
Use light to your benefit. As was mentioned above, light has a rather large impact on your sleep. In the winter, it is important to use the light in ways that can benefit you.When you wake up, or as soon as the sun is up, whichever comes first, spend a few minutes out in it. Though winters are usually very mild in the Fort Worth, Texas area, it may at times be too chilly to step out first thing in the morning. If this is the case, open your shades and let as much light into your space as possible.
Using bright indoor lights can work too, but natural sunlight is the most effective. Exposing yourself to light first thing in the morning hinders the production of melatonin and encourages cortisol production. This swapping of hormone production promotes the feeling of wakefulness, helping us to get-up-and-go rather than remain sleepy. Using the sunlight at the beginning of the day is a great way to boost your mental function and energy levels.
At mid-day if you begin feeling sluggish, look for the sun again, that’s when it is the strongest and it will feel rather refreshing. The light and dark also send strong signals to our biological clocks and using it can keep you sleeping well regularly. Exposing yourself to a lot of light in the morning sends a signal to the brain that it is time to be awake. Limiting light exposure in the evenings (TVs, phones, computers), especially within an hour or two of bedtime, sends a sign that it’s time to go to sleep.
Keep warm, but not overly warm. When we sleep at night our bodies don’t regulate temperature like they do when we are awake. So, we are more susceptible to the temperatures in our sleep environment. All year, regardless of the season, the best temperature for sleep is around 65 degrees Fahrenheit, maxing out at around 72 degrees. Keep your room temperature set between those temperatures for better sleep.
When you first fall asleep, your body temperature drops, losing heat through your hands and feet. In the winter, cold feet are one of the most common reasons someone may wake at night. If this is true for you, wear a comfortable pair of warm socks to help keep you warm and sleeping soundly. And even in winter, it is best to dress your bedding and yourself in fabrics that are breathable and allow heat to flow and evaporate so you don’t wake up in the night sweating.
Hopefully, this information helps you to sleep well this winter. If you should find that no matter what you try, you still struggle to get the quality sleep you need, there may be an underlying cause. A sleep consultation with Family Sleep Diagnostics may be what you need to help get your sleep health back on track. Schedule an appointment online or call us at (972) 714-0011 today.