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How to Sleep Better in Winter

By Dan Lavine | 01.02.2020

How to sleep better in winter

Getting a good night’s sleep in the middle of winter may seem like it should be no problem. After all, it’s the season of long nights, cozy blankets, hibernation, and snuggling up by the fire. But for all the same reasons winter and sleep go together so well, the opposite can also be true: For some people, winter can wreak havoc on sleep quality and quantity.

If you’re one of those people—who finds that these colder, shorter months mean more tossing and turning at night—we’re here for you. Here are all the ways this season can affect sleep, for better or worse, and how to get a good night’s rest all season long.

Fewer hours of daylight in the winter can have a big impact on a person’s sleep-wake cycle, Nidhi Undevia, MD, associate professor of sleep medicine at Loyola University Medical Center, tells Health—especially in northern latitudes where the difference between seasons is most extreme. That’s because sunlight triggers the suppression of melatonin, a hormone that helps the body prepare for sleep.

“We sleep better during the time that melatonin is secreted, and generally it gets secreted about an hour and a half to two hours before we go to sleep,” Dr. Undevia says. But during the winter, morning light may not be as bright, she says—so daytime melatonin production may be suppressed less than in the summer.

On top of that, the sun sets earlier, which means melatonin levels start rising earlier in the afternoon or evening. “Because of these factors, we don’t get the nice big highs and lows of melatonin secretion,” Dr. Undevia says. “That means we may feel more sluggish and more fatigued during the day, and we also don’t get that extra push at night to help us really power down for bed.”

To counteract these seasonal changes, Dr. Undevia recommends getting outdoors in the morning, soon after the sun comes up; if that’s not possible, try to at least sit by a window during the first few hours of daylight. You can also help keep melatonin secretion on schedule by avoiding bright light at night.

Of course, in the middle of the winter, it’s not unusual to leave for work or school when it’s still dark outside. Some people won’t see light all day, because they leave their offices after sunset as well.

If that’s the case, do your best to get outdoors for a few minutes while the sun is out—by going for a walk at lunchtime, for example. “Anything we can do to get exposure to light during the daytime is going to help us sleep better at night,” Dr. Undevia says.

Resist the urge to sleep in or nap

“We might have a tendency to feel tired or stay in bed longer during the winter,” says Dr. Undevia. “But there is no biological need for more sleep during the winter months—and if we’re sleeping later than usual or napping during the day, that could make it harder to fall asleep or stay asleep at night.”

And as cozy and comfy as your bed might be, it’s not a good idea to curl up there during the day if you’re not planning on sleeping. (Save the movie marathons for the couch, and all that work on your laptop for your home office.)

"The only two things allowed in bed are sleep and sex," Neomi Shah, MD, associate professor of medicine at the Mount Sinai Health System in New York City, previously told Health. "You don’t want to associate your bedroom with anything wakefulness-promoting."