Although people tend to be more lethargic in winter, the body doesn’t actually require more time in bed than the optimum 8 hours. But there are reasons why we all feel more sluggish in the morning and want to go to bed earlier in the cooler months.
Sleep and wakefulness are regulated by two complementary systems: firstly, our sleep/wake homeostasis, our natural intuitive process of the longer you are awake, the sleepier you get & the longer you sleep, the more likely you are to wake.
Secondly, our circadian rhythm, which is a cycle roughly corresponding to one day and is governed by our internal biological clock. It regulates many of the body’s internal processes including our sleep patterns and responds to EXTERNAL cues such as light and darkness that calibrate it.
The homeostatic sleep drive increases throughout the day, the longer you are awake, but it is moderated by the circadian cycle that keeps you alert, until at some point in the evening, triggered by darkness cues, the circadian system begins producing melatonin, the hormone for inducing sleep.
But obviously in the winter there are certain conditions which will affect this perfect synchronised process and increase our desire to sleep more. Here are a few of them.
1. There is Less Light
Your brain produces melatonin, the hormone which makes you sleepy, when triggered by darkness. In the colder months, these darkness cues occur much earlier in the day and as the suppression of melatonin production needs natural light to trigger it, and often this is in short supply in the winter months, you are getting an increase in melatonin production at both ends of the day….no wonder you feel sleepy all the time!
Helpful tip; Open your blinds or curtains as soon as you get up to let more sunlight into your home, and get outdoors in natural daylight as much as possible. Every little bit helps!
2. You're Too Hot
When the cold sets in, we all whack up the heat so its not uncomfortable getting into bed. But if the room is too hot, it disrupt your body's natural sleeping process as our bodies naturally cool down through the night and this promotes better sleep. Messing with the temperature of your room too much can mess with the temperature of your body.
Helpful tip; Warm your bed and yourself up using a hot water bottle or having a bath just to get you warm and comfortable for getting you into bed rather than heating your whole bedroom.
3. You eat more heavy comfort Food
When the weather outside is cold and uninviting, nothing makes you feel warm and cosy like a big bowl of carbs or a nice meaty stew! The problem is that in the winter time we tend to go for heavier meals, which can disrupt sleep. Our bodies aren’t designed to be digesting while we sleep.
Helpful tip; If you are eating near bedtime, choose light, easy to digest foods, not ones that are too protein heavy. Hearty root veg are perfect.
4. You are more Stressed
Winter brings with it all the highs and lows of the festive season and has been proven to cause increased stress for many of us! We guzzle a lot more alcohol (great for getting us to sleep, but not so great for keeping us that way!), do less exercise and often struggle to find a healthy release to get our mood back in check.
Helpful tip; Try a delicious salt bath before bed (epsom or dead sea salt). The warm water will soothe away any troubles and the salt, rich in magnesium, will be absorbed through the skin and help calm the nervous system.