At this time of year, getting out of bed in the morning can feel like a real chore
While most of us are impatiently awaiting the arrival of spring, we’re still finding ourselves dealing with some very wintry weather. Cold winds, long nights and grey days are all commonplace at this time of year, and this can have an impact on many aspects of our daily lives – including how much and how well we sleep.
Sleep is the time when the body rests and repairs itself, preparing for the following day. The amount of sleep we need varies for each individual, but usually falls between 7.5 and 8.5 hours per night. However, in winter, you may find yourself wanting to sleep for longer periods of time, whether that means wanting to go to bed earlier or finding it difficult to get out of bed in the morning.
But why is this, and what can you do to feel more rested on even the dullest winter’s day?
Lack of light
One of the most prominent factors affecting your energy levels during the winter is the overall lack of light compared to summer. Limited daylight affects both the timing and the quality of your sleep due to the way it impacts your hormone release.
Serotonin and melatonin are two hormones vital for the preservation of a regular sleep routine. Simply put, serotonin is activated by exposure to natural light, and helps you feel more energised. Meanwhile, melatonin is produced as light begins to fade, and helps you feel more relaxed and ready for sleep. Low light levels mean less serotonin and excess melatonin, which can leave you feeling tired and sluggish.
Drop in temperature
As well as being the darkest season, winter is also the coldest. When the air is too cold, your body’s melatonin production can become affected, disrupting on your natural sleep cycle. As a consequence, you may experience more nights of broken sleep, and wake up feeling tired as a result.
To counter this, many of us turn on our central heating for longer stretches of time, but even this can impact your sleep routine. Air that’s too dry and too warm can dry out the body’s mucus membranes, making you more susceptible to bacteria and viruses such as cold and flu. These illnesses can make it significantly more difficult to experience a good night’s sleep and wake up feeling rested.
Change in eating habits
In summer, we tend to indulge in more fresh fruits, fish and natural sugars. By contrast, our winter diets generally take on a hibernation-like quality, with far more dense carbohydrates, fats and high-calorie meals.
This can have a significant role to play in our health and even alter the release of hormones in the body. Eating a surplus of these types of food can influence our release of the hormone leptin, associated with metabolism and appetite. A change in leptin levels can disrupt our sleep cycle, further altering hormone levels and causing us to crave even more unhealthy foods as a replacement for a good night’s sleep. This creates a vicious cycle.
A poor sleep schedule in winter can leave you feeling tired, irritable and even depressed. In order to counteract the effects of these factors, it’s important to set a strict routine. Avoid bright screens and electronics for an hour before bed and instead try to relax by reading or meditating. In the morning, find light exposure as early as possible, and try to exercise every day.