For the majority of us winter is a very strange time of year when it comes to the general nine to five. Because of the lack of daylight, many of us get up while it is still dark and finish work after the sun has already retired. The absence of daylight in our daily routines leads plenty of people to believe that they feel sleepier than during the summer months, but is there any truth to this? Here at Sleepy People we have been doing the research to conclusively say whether this is fact or merely fiction.
The first and most obvious issue with winter and sleep is the lack of light. In human biology we have a hormone called melatonin which is released in our brains to let us now it is time to wind down and think about sleeping. In the summer months, where the daylight may last until 9 or 10 in the evening, our release of melatonin is steady and stable and once the light finally has gone, our body recognises it might be time to get to bed.
However your release of this hormone is confused in the winter months because of the lack of daylight. The release is increased and released much earlier leaving you puzzled as to when you should be going to be, this is why we might feel extra sleepy come four or five in the afternoon, because it is already dark. So science does prove that the lack of daylight makes you feel sleepier, but in actual fact the majority of us may struggle to sleep if we don’t stick it out until a normal bed time because our body just simply isn’t ready.
A combination of the miserable weather and the darker nights can also mean that plenty of us avoid exercise. In contrast the summer months (especially during holidays) are generally our most physically active months because the outdoors is much more inviting.
Regardless of the weather or the darker nights, our body is still running pretty similarly, so what the lack of exercise actually does is make us increasingly restless at night. Exercise is one of the best aids in getting a good night’s sleep and is something we recently discussed on the Sleepy People Blog (read here). Largely what this means is while the melatonin in our bodies makes us feel sleepier; we are actually more restless when it comes to bed time because we are less likely to have exercised. SOO for a better night’s sleep in the winter, try keeping up your exercise routines, even if it means getting wet every now and again.
Another thing which winter hugely influences is our diets. When the dark nights and miserable weather rolls around we tend to turn to heavier, starchier based meals. Understandably filling up on heavier, winter warming meals is much more appealing than sticking with your summery salad; however it could actually affect your sleep negatively.
First of all a quick change in diet in accordance to season is not a healthy way to live and can cause rather rapid weight gain. Obesity causes a number of sleep disorders, most notably sleep apnoea which disrupts your breathing whilst asleep causing a restless night’s sleep.
This change in diet can also lead to other disruptive things such as heartburn, especially if you eat close to your bed time. What this change in diet really suggests is that winter actually makes sleeping more difficult, instead of reducing you to almost hibernate, something plenty of people believe.
Unlike the summer months where we try to make the most of our weekends by socialising and enjoying the weather, during the winter months we are more inclined to stay in, relax and have plentiful lie ins. If we have had a particularly tricky working week in terms of sleep, it can also be tempting to try and “catch up” on the sleep we feel we have missed out on.
This is actually something to avoid as well. Switching your body off for two days can actually lead to further sleeping issues such as insomnia, which will obviously only worsen your mid-week sleeping problems. Instead of spending Saturday and Sunday in bed, do you best to be active and make the most of the daylight while it is available; this is the best way to get a good night’s sleep in such miserable months.
So despite what many of us believe about how winter affects our sleep, the facts show that we actually need no more sleep during those dark months than we do in the glorious summer months. The only problem is our hormone release of melatonin which makes us believe we are more tired than we are, which in turn affects our diet, or sleeping patterns and our exercise.