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Why We Sleep More in the Winter

It happens every year like clockwork: We lose an extra hour of daylight as we set the clocks back for Daylight Savings Time. The sudden early onset of darkness has its consequences, too. Our bodies tend to tire when the sun goes down, and we find ourselves quietly wondering, “Is it just me, or am I sleeping more this winter?”

If you’ve ever sat at your desk with heavy eyes, you’re not alone. A recent survey from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine shows that 34% of Americans report sleeping more in the winter. This is why. 

Is it normal to sleep more during the winter?

Our bodies take cues from the sun when it comes to wake and rest periods. When it’s bright outside, we’re meant to remain active, but it can be a different story once the sun goes down. 

It all has to do with the sun and our body’s circadian rhythms. According to a recent study from researchers at the Charité Medical University of Berlin, the sun sets the human body’s clock. When the length of day and light exposure changes, our bodies change in response, craving the sleep that normally comes with the night. After all, darkness typically signifies the difference between when it is time to rest and when it is time to function. The decrease in sunlight causes an increase in melatonin, which encourages sleep. With colder temperatures, our metabolism increases, which furthers the need to sleep more in winter. 

Benefits of more sleep this winter

Feet wearing winter socks in bed under the covers

Chinnapong/iStock/Getty Images Plus

Experts recommend that adults sleep an average of 7 hours or more per night. This is important because there are several benefits to getting enough quality winter sleep. 

  • Stronger immune system: Good sleep has been linked to a stronger, healthier immune system, so you get sick less often. Those who get enough sleep have lower rates of heart disease and diabetes.
  • Lower weight: Healthy sleep patterns, along with a good diet and the right vitamins, can actually affect your weight. Those who sleep seven hours or more have a lower risk of obesity than those who sleep less.  
  • Better mental health: You could be at a higher risk of anxiety and depression when you do not get enough sleep.
  • Better mood: Depression and seasonal affective disorder are common during the winter months, but getting enough rest could combat those symptoms and show an improvement in mood. 

How to combat excessive winter sleepiness 

Don’t fret. There are ways to get more sleep during winter so you look and feel your best.  

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Get sunlight right away in the morning

Sunlight prevents melatonin, the sleep hormone, so surround yourself with sunlight as soon as you wake up. Open the blinds and curtains in your home to welcome as much natural light as possible. Vitamin D has been proven to play a role in sleep regulation, helping you to sleep better at night and feel more alert during the day.  

Get some exercise  

Make sure you allot some time each day for exercise. Morning exercise especially can be beneficial as it helps the body wake up after a long night’s rest. Just a simple walk around the neighborhood could give you a great jolt of Vitamin D and help you maintain a more balanced circadian rhythm. To get started, consider asking a friend or family member to walk with you or join an exercise group. 

Keep naps short 

It can be tempting to sink into a long nap, but try to stick to power naps that can help boost your productivity throughout the day. Afternoon naps should last 20 minutes so you do not fall into REM sleep, which can leave you feeling even more tired than before you napped. Pay particular attention to your bedroom; there are ways to make your bedroom extra cozy this winter. 

Limit screen time before bed

Exposure to light can disrupt your sleep cycle and prevent you from sleeping properly. When the body sees light, it can slow the production of melatonin, leaving you alert when you are supposed to be winding down. To get the best sleep possible, avoid electronics and TV before bed to allow your body time to rest before you sleep. 

Watch your fluid intake

Be careful how much you drink before bed so you aren’t peeing so much in the middle of the night. More than a third of adults wake up at least twice to go to the bathroom, interrupting your REM sleep and leaving you feeling more tired than normal. To help, limit your fluids before bed and talk to your doctor if incontinence becomes a regular issue.

Adjust your thermostat 

Pay attention to the temperature in your bedroom. Temperature can affect the production of melatonin, which means your body will have trouble finding rest if it’s too hot or too cold. Instead, studies show that the perfect temperature for sleep is around 65 degrees.

Bottom line

If you feel like you’re sleeping more in the winter, you’re not alone. It’s normal for your sleep habits to change during winter months due to the decrease of sunlight, resulting in an increase of melatonin. A few changes like exercise and setting the thermostat could help you not only sleep better but live a healthier life with a stronger immune system and mental health. In the end, you could even live longer when you maintain the best sleep habits for your body. 

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