As many health studies have proven, adequate sleep is one of the most important ways to maintain overall good health. During our typical Seattle winter, certain environmental factors may be quite conducive to good sleep, such as naturally cooler bedrooms and plenty of darkness in the evening. However, all that winter darkness can also create challenges. Here are a few tips to help you maintain good sleep as well as good daytime energy throughout the winter season.
Get as much light as possible, especially early in the day.
During our short winter days, you may not be receiving as much light exposure during the day as in the summer months. Light causes the suppression of melatonin during daytime hours which helps wake you up. If you are not getting much time outdoors during daylight hours, and if your indoor daytime environment is not well-lit, you may find yourself more groggy and less energetic. Get outside when possible and ensure your home and work environments are brightly lit during the day to help keep you alert and productive. Adding a desk lamp or using a full-spectrum or higher watt lightbulb may also make a difference.
Maintain regular physical activity to prevent low daytime energy.
Exercise delivers an energy boost that can carry you throughout the day and also prepare you to sleep better at night.
Reduce light exposure in the hour or two before bed.
A darker environment allows your body’s melatonin levels to rise and for natural sleepiness to occur. Sitting in front of television/computer/phone screens close to bedtime can result in more relative light exposure than you have during the day, which may result in sleep difficulty. To prevent this, get off screens for two hours before bed and/or make sure any device you use is switched to a nighttime dimmer.
Choose relaxing activities leading up to bed.
You can help reinforce the body’s natural winding-down process by clearing your mind and perhaps avoiding work, news, email, and the Internet. Choose calming and quiet activities like taking a warm bath, listing to soft music, or reading a book.
Keep your sleep schedule fairly consistent from week days to weekends.
A regular sleep schedule can reduce the likelihood of “social jetlag,” a phenomenon that may occur when your schedule shifts to later hours on your days off and confuses your body’s circadian clock, resulting in a fatigue similar to what you might experience changing time zones.
Ensure your bedroom is quiet and comfortable.
In the winter months, set your thermostat lower during your sleep period. Adjust the heat to come on as you wake up, and turn the lights on to help get the day started. A dawn simulator alarm clock also may be helpful, which lights up the bedroom as your alarm time approaches.
If you feel significant mood impairment that appears seasonal, you may want to talk with your primary care provider to discuss whether other tools such as a light box or medication might help you get through the shorter, darker days of winter.