Say goodbye to drowsy: Tips for getting a good night’s rest this season.
The alarm jolts you awake, but it’s still pitch black outside and you feel as if you’ve barely closed your eyes. Winter mornings have a way of making it harder than ever to get out of bed, leaving you wishing for just a little more shuteye.
Getting a good night’s sleep is not just a good idea, it’s also vital to your health and wellbeing. Sleep restores and recharges your body, improves your brain function, and can even help you fend off illness.
Winter’s arrival, though, can cause some common sleep disturbances. Here is why sleep matters to your health, along with tips to improve yours this winter.
How Sleep Supports Health
Most adults need between 8 and 10 hours of sleep per night, with a minimum of 7 hours. Getting less can affect you the next day, while chronic sleep deprivation increases the risk of disease.
“Sleep plays a crucial role in your overall health,” said Dr. Catherine Bernard, Chief Medical Officer at Aspen Valley Hospital. “Quality sleep not only makes you feel better, but it also helps the immune system stay strong. It can help you stave off weight gain, anxiety, depression and more.”
Think of it this way: while you sleep, your body hits the “repair” and “reset” buttons. Sleep supports your health through:
During stages of deep sleep, your body recharges vital functions. It releases growth hormones that reduce inflammation, repair tissue and strengthen bone. Adequate sleep is also essential to help you recover from heavy physical activity and build muscle.
Sleep fuels your immune system and antibodies to help you fight off disease and infection.
When you sleep, your brain consolidates memory, clearing pathways to retain new information. This can make thinking, learning and problem-solving a little easier.
Adequate sleep helps regulate hormones related to stress, like cortisol, and appetite, such as ghrelin and leptin. Hormonal balance assists with keeping a healthy weight and lowering the risk of certain metabolic diseases like diabetes.
Giving your mind and body the opportunity to rest conserves and recharges your energy. It’s why you wake up feeling refreshed after a good night’s sleep.
Getting your zzz’s then, isn’t just about helping you get through the next day. It’s key to your physical, mental and emotional wellbeing.
Shorter days with reduced light may interrupt your circadian rhythms by interfering with your production of melatonin, the sleep-regulating hormone.
Long nights and cold temperatures can make you feel tired—and yet many people struggle to get quality sleep in the winter.
“Winter’s onset can bring a number of seasonal sleep challenges,” Dr. Bernard said. “Those can include less daylight, richer foods and mood changes that make it feel harder to get up in the morning.”
Recent research shows that sleep patterns change through the seasons, and in winter we naturally need more rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. REM sleep is one of four stages of sleep, with relaxed muscles and increased brain activity, and helps support emotional processing and brain function. According to the Sleep Foundation, most adults need about two hours of REM sleep per night, and even more during the colder months.
Yet a few common culprits can interfere with your ability to get good sleep during this season. Shorter days with reduced light may interrupt your circadian rhythms by interfering with your production of melatonin, the sleep-regulating hormone.
Screentime too close to bedtime can also disrupt melatonin production. In addition, increased darkness may trigger seasonal mood changes that affect your ability to fall asleep or stay asleep. What you eat and drink can also wreak havoc with your sleep, from caffeinated beverages and alcohol to foods high in fat and sugar. So can traveling, especially if you’ve crossed time zones or are adjusting to high altitude.
While winter can bring sleep challenges, there are a few strategies you can use to up your chances of getting a good night’s sleep.
“A good routine is the key to getting better sleep,” Dr. Bernard said. “Staying active and establishing a predictable bedtime routine that helps you wind down can lead to better quality sleep. This in turn can help you live a happy, healthy life.”
Strategies for Better Sleep
Set a wake-up time.
If it’s difficult to go to bed at the same time, try setting a regular morning alarm. This can help you move toward a consistent bedtime.
Establish cut-off times.
Caffeine can remain in your system from 2 to 12 hours, so avoid consuming it too close to bedtime. Give yourself at least 3 hours to metabolize alcohol, too, as it can disrupt your sleep.
Limit screentime before bed.
Put away your phone or tablet 1 to 2 hours before bedtime. Consider also charging your phone across the room so you’re not tempted to check it one more time.
Make time to relax.
A few minutes of wind-down can help you fall asleep faster—and stay asleep longer. Yoga or stretching, mindfulness apps like Headspace and Calm, or 10 minutes of reading (but not on a screen!) can all help.
Practice good sleep hygiene.
Keep your bedroom quiet, dark and cool. Most experts say 65 degrees is optimal. Also, treat your bedroom as a place to sleep and rest, not work.
Some supplements like melatonin and B vitamins can also be effective sleep aids. Ask your primary care doctor for guidance.
When to Get Help
Most people experience sleeping difficulties at some point in their lives. Signs can include drowsiness, difficulty focusing, irritability and more. Some people struggle with insomnia, a sleep disorder characterized by difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep long enough to get a full night of quality sleep.
Another sleep disorder is sleep apnea, in which you may repeatedly stop breathing at night. Your brain wakes you enough to restart breathing, but the disorder can prevent you from getting a healthy, restful night of sleep.
Seasonal Affective Disorder, known as S.A.D., can also cause sleeping problems. This seasonal depression is most common in late fall to late winter. In severe cases, S.A.D. can lead to depression and suicidal thoughts and tendencies. If you are experiencing these symptoms, contact Headquarters (formerly Aspen Strong) to find help.
If you have consistently focused on your sleep hygiene, and you still struggle with sleep and low energy, check with your primary care doctor. He or she may suggest a sleep apnea screening or refer you to a sleep study, which can be used to diagnose a wide variety of sleep disorders.
Winter in the Roaring Fork Valley is a wonderful time of year. This season, make sure you’re well-rested enough to enjoy all it has to offer.