When the evenings draw in earlier, many of us feel the need to cancel our social plans and hibernate away.
Suddenly, it can feel harder to get out of bed when the alarm goes off in the morning when it’s still pitch dark and cold outside. Sunrise gym sessions become far less appealing. The mid-afternoon tiredness slump can hit harder too, and we find ourselves over-caffeinating during the day. Over the long winter months, feeling weary and finding it hard to stay energised seem to be regular complaints for lots of us. Factors such as temperature and the amount of light we receive during the day in this season may play an important role.
So, is seasonal tiredness all in your head? Or do we actually need to spend more time sleeping during the winter months?
Why do we feel more tired than usual in the winter?
As the days shorten, our exhaustion can feel like it’s intensifying. Researchers believe that this may be linked to the fluctuating hormone levels in our bodies.
Winter can make it more challenging to set up the right environment for rest. In winter, you get cold during the day, you put the heater on at full capacity in the house, and you may add extra duvets to your bed. This can affect your body’s cooling system and you may end up struggling to fall asleep, to maintain deep sleep and thus to feel alert during the day.
Experts agree that it’s actually much more likely that our need to sleep more in winter is associated with the amount of light we are exposed to. The link between our internal body clock that drives our sleep-wake cycle and light has indeed been well established. Lower light intensity means it’s time for bed, sending a signal to the brain that it should start preparing the body for sleep. While more light is associated with alertness.
Lack of sunlight causes your body to produce more of a sleep hormone called melatonin. Melatonin is produced by the pineal gland in your brain in response to darkness. It signals that it’s time to hit the hay and rest. As we’re exposed to fewer sunny days during the winter months, our brains compensate by releasing too much melatonin into the body. This flood of sleep-inducing hormones can leave us feeling more drowsy than usual.
As well as excess melatonin, counting down the hours until bedtime might also be a sign of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) – a type of winter depression. It’s thought that SAD is caused by a lack of sunlight disrupting the production of a hormone called serotonin – lower levels of which have been linked to depression. People who are affected typically experience lower energy levels and poor mood but also sleep problems.
Do we need more sleep in the winter?
Essentially, yes. During the winter, your body can struggle to adjust to the chilly, gloomy days. Cold temperatures and fewer daylight hours can cause your internal clock to be thrown off, causing your energy levels, sleeping patterns, and even your mood to shift. Many people need more sleep during the colder months to rebalance their circadian rhythm.
Another good reason to prioritise early nights over the local pub during the darker months? Less sick days. A lack of sleep can have an impact on your immune system, which is not ideal during the winter when viral infections like the common cold or flu are prevalent. By getting more deep sleep, you can allow your immune system to use more energy to fight infection and keep your body in a healthier state to fight common winter illnesses.
What can we do to feel more rested in the winter?
So, what can you do to avoid feeling sleepy during the day in winter and improve your sleep quality? Working on a few factors can make a huge difference:
The bedroom should be dark, cool, and quiet, with a light exposure contrasting as much as possible with outside light. Avoid screens with artificial light.
The key to winter wellness is getting as much light as possible. It’s always a good idea to open your blinds or curtains as soon as you wake up to let as much natural daylight flood in. As far as possible, it’s also a good idea to maintain the same bedtime and wake-up time.
Avoid trying to cram too many things into the shorter winter days too, as stress is a trigger for tiredness. Instead, block out some time to meditate, practice yoga and journal, to help foster mental balance.
Going for a walk outdoors to get natural light every day, even if it’s rainy and foggy, can also help to maintain your energy levels. At lunchtime try and take a brisk walk outdoors, and make sure there’s as much light and ventilation at work and at home.
Nutrition can also play a key role in your energy levels and make you feel sleepy, so winter can be a good time for a healthy eating kick. While it’s tempting to ditch salads and go for comfort food such as pasta or potatoes, try to include plenty of fruit and vegetables in your meals.
In winter, one of the biggest threats to sleep is actually associated with the festive season and the fact that people go to bed at irregular times and consume more alcohol. There’s more pressure to drink in the winter because of all of these parties. Though in the short-term alcohol behaves like a sedative, the quality of the sleep is disrupted. It leaves us a bit more irritable and not as productive and alert. So, it’s all about being moderate, to deal better with this time of the year and improve our sleep.
Finally, think about your supplement strategy – if you struggle to get the recommended eight hours of sleep per night, Dreem Distillery Night Drops contain broad-spectrum CBD, calming limonene, and lavender-scented linalool, to help support you into a restful slumber.