Shortened hours of sunlight and a drop in temperatures are just a couple reasons why winter always seems to linger just a bit too long. And while winter brings cozy activities like staying indoors, relaxing with a cup of tea, and maybe dozing off by the fireplace, these colder months can have a negative impact on sleep quality.
Less time outdoors means less sunlight, which means a lack of Vitamin D. During the spring and summer months when we’re outside, we absorb Vitamin D through the sun’s rays. Some benefits of Vitamin D include having a stabilized mood, strengthened immune system, and enhanced sleep quality. In relation to sleep quality, Vitamin D deficiency reduces sleep time and decreases sleep efficiency.
On the other hand, Melatonin, often known as the “sleep hormone”, increases as our light intake decreases. Depending on where you live, the sun may start setting at 5PM or even earlier. Essentially, most people are naturally going through Vitamin D withdrawal and Melatonin highs in these colder winter months.
Another reason why your sleep may be affected this time of year is that you may suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder, also known as ‘SAD’. Those affected by SAD are known to be sensitive to light and have excessive levels of sleepiness during the winter days. SAD is common during the winter months because of the shortened sunlights hours. Dr. Kristo notes that the sun encourages our body to have a sleep and wake cycle routine. So when winter comes around, your body and circadian system is thrown off, making you feel more sluggish and gloomy overall.
How to fix your sleepy winter blues
Natural light is a major factor when it comes to our circadian rhythms. Seek as much natural light as you can in your daily life. If possible, it’s best to absorb sunlight early in the morning to decrease melatonin and up your cortisol levels. This will help you feel awake and ready to go, as well as activate your biological clock to enable a normal sleep cycle. If you’re not an outdoor-morning person, anytime while the sun is shining will do! An alternative to natural light is a bright indoor light or light therapy lamp. Light therapy lamps are known to have similar effects of the sun, just without the UV rays. This especially helps those affected by Seasonal Affective Disorder.
Another tip is to find Vitamin D supplements. Vitamin D can be found in foods such as fish, egg yolks, mushrooms, and fortified dairy and grain products. This vitamin can also be found as a supplement.
Our final remedy is to keep up with a normal wind down routine. The darker days often call us to bed earlier and for longer, but try to avoid going to bed too early if you can. Try sticking to a normal and consistent night time routine. Doing this will create a normal circadian rhythm.
When it comes to the winter blues, the struggle is real! We encourage you to try some of these methods, and hopefully, you’ll skate right through the winter months.