We’re not sure about you, but we find that the longer nights and colder weather makes us want to hibernate. To snuggle down and spend long mornings cozy in our duvets. But that doesn’t mean we sleep well, or sleep more.
It’s a hard fact that in wintertime there is less sunlight and greyer skies. As a result, our sleep cycle can get thrown out of whack. To help you work out why you’re not sleeping, we’ve got some tips for you:
- Understanding your circadian rhythm
- How to fix your sleep cycle
- Tips to help you sleep well
Let’s sort out our REM cycles and work out the easiest ways to fall asleep together…
Understanding your circadian rhythm
The thing that regulates our sleep-waking cycle is called our circadian rhythm. It’s essentially a 24-hour clock that tells us when to sleep, when to wake, and when to get tired (amongst other mental and physical things).
“When properly aligned, a circadian rhythm can promote consistent and restorative sleep. But when this circadian rhythm is thrown off, it can create significant sleeping problems, including insomnia.”
It’s hugely affected by the environment, light, and the day/night cycle, which is why in wintertime, things can get misaligned.
In bright daylight, this ‘clock’ sends signals to our brain to stay awake and alert, and at night it tells us to sleep. The issue is, in months with reduced sunlight, these signals can get confused and more melatonin (the hormone that promotes sleep) gets produced sooner.
How to fix your sleep cycle
Finding ways to sleep well and fix your cycle is straightforward and can be done without any medical assistance.
The key is not to go to sleep too soon – it’s all about the routine. No matter if you’re yawning at 5 pm, don’t give in to the need to nap. You should aim to sleep and wake at the same time every day. A small lie in on the weekend is ok though.
Remember to wind down properly and avoid your smartphone, tablet, or computer for some time before you want to sleep. Research has found that the blue light they emit can confuse your circadian rhythm and prohibit melatonin production.
But that’s not all. There are many things you can do to sleep well…
Tips to help you sleep well
- Get more light exposure
We don’t mean artificial light; we mean actual sunlight. There are few sunlight hours during winter, so it’s important to get out when you can. Consider going for a walk on your lunch break, or walking to the shops instead of driving. Even doing some garden maintenance or washing your car in the daytime is better than nothing.
Some people use lightboxes to regulate their rhythms. These are essentially alarm clocks that imitate the sunlight and gently wake you up as the sun would.
- Make your room sleep-friendly
Your bedroom shouldn’t be too hot and it shouldn’t be too cold – the Sleep Council recommends a temperature of around 16-18°C or 61 to 64.5 °F. Any warmer or colder and you’re likely to have restless sleep.
The right level tog duvet and the best pillows can help contribute to the room temperature as well. A thinner four tog is better for summer, but in winter you should use one with a 10.5 or higher tog for maintaining the heat. There is also the on-going debate between hollow fiber and goose down or feather fillings. Goose down and feathers are natural and better at retaining heat, but they can be a big no-no for those with allergies. On the other hand, hollow fiber is generally more affordable and hypoallergenic, but they tend not to last as long.
- Avoid hibernating
We know, with the cold and miserable weather it’s so tempting to wrap yourself up in your duvet and stay cocooned in warmth for a lie-in, but it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. And there’s no such thing as ‘catching up on your sleep’.
Sure, a few extra hours here and there will make you feel better in the short term, but it won’t do much for your overall tiredness. It’s more likely to throw off your circadian rhythm even more. By all means, stay comfy (and awake) in bed, but try not to sleep late – it’s best to stick to a routine.
- Say no to the snacks and late-night feasts
While hot soups and casseroles are warming and soothing, and the festive chocolates are everywhere, it’s important not to give in to the cravings and increase your food intake.
Keep your mealtimes regular and avoid eating close to bedtime for a more restful and beneficial night’s sleep. You want your digestive system happy and sated, not working hard to get through that bowl of stew you had an hour or so ago.
- Don’t forget to exercise
It may be grey, dark, and miserable outside, but that’s no excuse for not exercising. In addition to getting you out of the house and into the weak winter sun, it can invigorate you and increase your focus and positive emotions.
Exercise has long been prescribed as a remedy to insomnia and poor sleep – just make sure you don’t do any too close to bedtime.
So, if you’re finding it hard to sleep well and you’re wondering how to fix your sleep cycle, try to incorporate some of these tips and see what happens. They’re key to a more consistent circadian rhythm and the right levels of melatonin, which is what you need to sleep well.