Winter, with its long nights, reduced temperatures and lower light levels, is when we want to be hibernating. We’re drawn to conserving energy, appreciating the peaceful nature of cold, wintry days, and enjoying deep, restorative sleep. So why do so many people struggle to get to sleep or to stay asleep during winter?
Today, SOL expert Florence Neville tells us how to sleep well in winter and shares some simple techniques that can make a big difference at this time of year.
One of the simplest ways to improve the quality of your sleep is by supporting your natural twenty-four-hour cortisol cycle. Cortisol is a stress hormone that helps regulate our blood sugar levels by triggering a rise in glucose (a quick burn energy source) in our bloodstream. For example, we need cortisol production to increase every morning, so we can get up and get going! Cortisol should also be at its lowest in the evening, so our body can switch off and release melatonin for deep, restorative sleep.
Balancing your cortisol levels benefits every single hormonal process in your body. There are many ways to do this. I talked about one method last year in How to Sleep Well in Late Summer, but to help you sleep well in winter, I want to focus on lighting.
Rising levels of light (particularly at the blue end of the spectrum) in the mornings send a signal to our bodies that we need to get moving for the day. For our ancestors, this would have been crucial – if we stayed asleep all day, we’d miss our chance to procure food!
In the UK, we often have to get up for work before dawn, so it’s a good idea to open your curtains as soon as the light levels begin to rise. If you really struggle to wake up in the morning, you could consider using an alarm light box that emits increasing amounts of blue light.
As tempting as it may be, I also recommend that you don’t sleep in past dawn at the weekends in winter. Leaving it until later to wake up means your body clock will begin to reset for a later time.
The natural light we drink in through our eyes and skin during the day supports several key hormonal systems crucial in maintaining our vitality levels throughout the day. Compare how you feel after a day in the sunlight rather than a day under florescent light. One leaves you pleasantly drowsy by bedtime, the other triggers simultaneous fatigue and feeling wired.
If you can, do try to get outside during the day– it’s likely you’ll have more energy afterwards and feel pleasantly sleepy in the evening.
Before we began installing energy saving bulbs and LEDs, we had much more yellow and orange toned evening light in our homes. Filament bulbs more closely resembled the candlelight and firelight humankind had relied on for thousands of years previously. With less light at the blue end of the spectrum and more at the red end, our cortisol production was naturally slowed down to let us sleep.
To make matters worse, the last few years has seen most of us get into the habit of using computers or smartphones well past sundown. Screen light is mostly blue and shining this directly into our eyes can tell our hormonal systems that it’s actually the middle of the day!
If you do need to use a screen in the evening, try and turn the brightness right down and use software that reduces the blue light whenever possible.
Whenever possible, switch off all devices an hour or so before bed and leave them outside your bedroom. Light candles and turn off bright household lights and use this time to relax, sip herbal tea, read, bathe or just gaze into the hypnotic candlelight. Notice your stress levels drop, your breathing slow, and your eyes relax.
Enjoy your sleep…
Love Lizzie, Flo and the SOL team xx