6 Tips to Sleep Better in Winter
Start the countdown now and lap up the sunny dawn as much as you can, because the clocks are going back on the 25th of October. You know what’s coming: bitterly cold and dark mornings. If it wasn’t hard enough to wake-up already, knowing the sun hasn’t yet risen makes it harder. It’s not all bad though, at least you get an extra hour of sleep…
For the next 5 months, you’ll have to adapt your sleep pattern and body clock. It’s worth practising this sooner rather than later, for the best efficacy. Not sure where to start? Read on!
Find More Light
We’re losing a lot of daylight: the days are shorter and the nights are longer. Biologically, we feel more tired when it’s darker as this signals it’s sleep-time. Unfortunately, we don’t have the luxury of hibernating and our daily jobs still await! To cheat the system, invest in a sunlight lamp or “light box”. These are specifically designed to mimic the LUX emitted by the sun, enhancing the production of serotonin and melatonin, which helps keep your circadian rhythms (aka the wake-sleep cycle) in check. Alternative options are artificial lighting like desk and night lamps to help you stay awake. Switch off these lamps an hour before you go to bed, or dim the lighting, as this will also trigger your brain into falling asleep.
Get That (Vitamin) D!
Less sunlight also means less Vitamin D and a greater risk of deficiency. This can lead to symptoms of depression and fatigue. To prevent this, it’s worth getting some supplements, or consider adding foods to your diet that are rich in Vit D. The NHS recommends oily fish (salmon, mackerel), fortified breakfast cereals and egg yolks. Vegan sources include mushrooms and orange juice. If possible, go outside and absorb some of the sun’s rays for 20 minutes. However, the UK lacks stable weather conditions, be wary of a downpour at any second…
Keep Nice n’ Toasty
The time has come for the annual argument: when is it acceptable to turn on the heating? The optimal temperature to help you sleep is 16–18°C. But, as temperatures begin to drop, waking up in the morning becomes more difficult. Set your thermostat to turn on 30 minutes before you need to wake-up to 20°C; this will take that chill out (and hopefully keep your breath invisible). As comfortable as it might be to sleep in your underwear (or naked), now’s the time to invest in some proper pyjamas. This will help you acclimatise to the cold weather — and stop you desperately clinging to your bed sheets.
Get the Goldilocks’ Sleep
There is a tendency to want to go to bed earlier or sleep for longer due to the pending darkness. It’s important to maintain a strict routine with yourself, getting an average of 7–9 hours of sleep a night. This keeps your body clock ticking in a timely fashion. Too much sleep makes you feel more groggy and can trigger a low mood. Aim to be in bed by 10 pm for that 6 am start! This is just the right amount of sleep to ensure you wake up feeling refreshed.
Keep Hydrated and Energised
In response to fatigue, we’re going to crave more calorie-dense foods, sugar and caffeine. Whilst these are fine in moderation, we have less self-control in Winter — storing reserves like a grizzly bear. Trying to combat your lack of sleep with caffeine to stay awake creates a catch-22. You’ll constantly be feeling tired! A general tip is to avoid caffeine after 4 pm and limit sugary snacks before bed. To satisfy your sweet tooth, try eating a banana before you sleep. Bananas are full of magnesium, potassium and Vitamin B6, which increase the production of serotonin and melatonin to encourage soothing sleep.
We tend to reach for steaming tea and hot chocolate, rather than water, often meaning our average consumption drops. But staying hydrated helps you function better and stay awake. You should aim for 6–8 glasses of water. You could also try heating a mug of water; this may sound odd, but it will keep you both warm and hydrated, while simultaneously relaxing your body and improving your digestive system! Also, try and opt for caffeine-free drinks, such as a calming cup of camomile before bed.
There’s nothing worse than feeling tired but wired. No matter how sluggish you feel throughout the day, suddenly there’s a rush of energy pre-bedtime. Try to expend the surplus energy as much as possible during your waking hours through moderate exercise. Our fitness levels and motivation drops over Winter, especially as the holiday season is over. I know it’s harder to force yourself to get up earlier to exercise (or even motivate yourself when it’s dark), but imagine the good night’s sleep you’ll get — rather than the aesthetic goals.
Making a conscious effort to adapt your sleep routine will offset challenges like fatigue, low mood and improve your productivity levels. These are really simple tips to include in your lifestyle and will become easier by pushing yourself. It’s time to accept that Summer is over (cry face), but your sleep doesn’t have to suffer too!
Written by Naida Allen
Naida is a Criminology and Psychology graduate who is passionate about promoting positive mental health and wellbeing. She is a creative writer/blogger and runs an online platform with a close friend called ‘Confidently Anxious’ — which aims to help others struggling with their mental health by sharing personal stories and coping tips. She currently volunteers as a Peer Mentor for young persons.