If you feel like you struggle to fall asleep more during the winter season, you’re not alone. The changing of seasons does, in fact, affect your sleep quality and health.
Some might notice it more than others, but we are all affected. This article will break down how exactly the seasons influence your sleep, and give you some useful tips for combating poor sleep in the cold seasons.
How Does the Seasons Affect Your Sleep?
The first thing you should consider is your body’s circadian rhythm. Circadian rhythms are basically the internal clocks or cycles our bodies work by, and help determine our sleeping and eating patterns.
Our circadian rhythms are primarily maintained by our exposure to light, which leads us into the first way seasons affect our sleep.
The Role of Light in Our Sleep
Since circadian rhythms help determine our sleeping patterns, and circadian rhythms are maintained by light exposure, it should make sense that light actually plays a big role in our sleep health.
In addition to maintaining our circadian rhythms, light is also the major influencer of our body’s melatonin production, which is the hormone that regulates sleeping and waking cycles.
In the colder seasons, where the days are shorter, light is much scarcer than in the spring or summer seasons. This can throw off the clock our circadian rhythms have set and make falling asleep more difficult or leave us feeling groggy during the day. Additionally, our melatonin levels will rise and fall with the seasons and changes in light exposure, causing similar effects.
Sunlight is our primary source of Vitamin D, and due to its scarceness in the winter, we lack Vitamin D. Vitamin D is a necessity in serotonin production. Serotonin is responsible for many different bodily functions, including alerting the parts of the brain that control our sleep-wake cycles. So, when we are at a Vitamin D deficiency, we may feel more drowsy during the day, feel increased fatigue and even feelings of depression.
In the winter, it’s important to make an effort to get some sunlight where possible. If you work indoors, step outside for a few minutes on your break or take a walk in the morning. If you can’t get outside, or it’s way too cold, try working near a window! A particular study actually showed that office workers who sat near a window received more white light exposure and slept better at night.
Temperature: Cooler Air is Better
Temperature also plays a big role in our sleep cycles and circadian rhythms. When your body prepares for sleep, your internal temperature lowers slightly and stays lower up until a few hours before you wake.
Most research suggests that cooler air in a room supports the body’s natural deep sleep process, affects melatonin production, and impacts sleep quality.
If the air is too cold, melatonin production will lower and you might struggle to sleep, but overall, cooler air is better for more comfortable sleep.
On the other hand, an overheated room can be uncomfortable and dries out the sinuses, leaving you more susceptible to colds. Hot and humid air can prevent you from reaching a deep sleep, which is necessary for functioning at your best.
Using ceiling fans and opening windows at night can help to cool down your room if its too warm. You also want to avoid eating too close to bed, because digestion will increase your core temperature slightly.
Ideally, the best room temperature for optimum rest is between 60 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Of course, the exact temperature depends on preference, bedding, and clothing.
If you want to enhance the temperature drop your body takes in preparation for proper rest, try taking a warm bath or cuddling a couple hours before retiring and take off extra layers before getting into bed.
Allergies and Illness
Another big impact to our health that we see in the seasons is the onset of allergies. Each season has its own allergens. For instance, spring and summer have high levels of grass and tree pollen, while autumn brings high levels of ragweed. Even in the winter, certain molds and increased exposure to dust mites indoors can cause irritation.
The symptoms of allergies are bad enough to disrupt sleep and increase feelings of fatigue, and in some cases, can be bad enough to cause infections that feel similar to colds or the flu. And even if your allergies don’t keep you up at night, the antihistamines you take for the allergies could also be disrupting your sleep.
Many antihistamines, like Benadryl, cause drowsiness when first taken, but they actually can affect your sleep more than just making you more tired for an hour or two. In fact, research suggests that antihistamines can impair your overall sleep quality and increase the likelihood of parasomnias such as sleep walking or night terrors.
In addition to allergies, some seasons bring higher risk of illness. In the fall and winter, we see spikes of colds and flus, which can make it more difficult to sleep.
Many medications for treating colds and flu also can impair sleep quality, including cough syrups that contain alcohol. You may want to consider using a humidifier in the colder seasons, because having indoor heat on regularly dries out the air and can both irritate your sinuses and make you more susceptible to germs.
Storms Matter, Too
While light rain is great white noise that can be soothing at night, noisy storms can disrupt sleep quality and make it more difficult to get deep rest. Storms can also be a trigger for those with anxiety, which may affect sleep as well.
This factor can make it especially difficult to sleep in the summer and fall, when storms are at an all-time high thanks to the Atlantic’s hurricane season.
Weather and Pain
Unfortunately, weather changes can also be physically painful for those with joint and/or nerve pain disorders, such as arthritis or fibromyalgia. Changes in barometric pressure, humidity, and temperature all can influence pain levels and make getting comfortable (and in turn, sleeping) difficult.
Research suggests that colder weather and higher barometric pressures cause an increase in pain from arthritis. There also appears to be a correlation between increased pain and inflammation in connection with high humidity levels.
Falling barometric pressure and extreme temperatures and humidity also appear to have a connection with increased migraines.
Pain itself can affect sleep, but medications that treat pain may also impact sleep quality. This is due to many pain medications containing stimulants, like caffeine.
Quick Tip: Try Health Ranger’s Organic Turmeric Gold liquid extract for joint pain natural relief instead of ibuprofen products.
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and its Connection to Sleep
Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD for short, is a seasonal form of extreme depression that affects somewhere between 4 and 6 percent of people.
For most sufferers, SAD occurs during the fall and/or winter, when the days are shorter and light exposure is significantly decreased. Symptoms begin sometime in the fall each year (for some it’s late fall, others, earlier) and end in the early spring. A few, though, experience symptoms beginning in the spring and ending in early fall, which is known as reverse-SAD.
SAD affects mood, weight, energy levels, and even sleep. Symptoms of SAD last roughly 5 to 6 months and include, but aren’t limited to:
- Trouble sleeping
- Daytime fatigue
- Increased irritability
- Lack of or loss of interest in previously enjoyable things/activities
- Difficulty concentrating and focusing
- Mood swings
- Appetite and weight changes
Some of these symptoms are opposite depending on whether or not a person’s SAD is winter-onset or summer-onset. For instance, those with winter-onset SAD may experience hypersomnia (oversleeping), weight gain, and increased appetite and cravings for carb-rich foods. On the other hand, those with summer-onset SAD are more likely to experience insomnia, weight loss, and reduced appetite.
SAD is, in fact, shown to exacerbate or even cause sleeping problems. For example, people who deal with SAD are more likely to be “night owls” and stay up later. They also experience more extreme quantities of sleep, either “long” sleep, which is more than 9 hours at a time, or “short” sleep, which is less than 6 hours.
The most common sleep problems associated with SAD are insomnia and hypersomnia, with hypersomnia affecting 80% of SAD patients.
Additionally, SAD patients appear to experience less restorative sleep and the amount of time in deep sleep is decreased.
Getting treatment for SAD is extremely important in order to live a healthy life and have a good quality of life. Consulting with a sleep specialist here at our center is a great first step that will help you get on the right track towards better sleep and a healthier, happier lifestyle.
What Can You Do?
It is clear that seasons and weather do have an affect on our sleep and there are many factors involved that impact our quality of sleep. So, what can you do about it?
In addition to seeking professional treatment if you’re experiencing any abnormal or extreme symptoms, incorporating essential oils into your life can help promote relaxation and better quality sleep. To learn more about essential oils, visit our informative blog here.
Below, we list 8 of our recommended essential oils for relaxation and better sleep and how to use them:
This oil is by far the most popular for sleep and relaxation. Lavender has a soft, soothing scent and is shown to reduce anxiety, has beneficial effects on depression, and can also help relieve pain. Additionally, lavender has sedative effects, so it can help you fall asleep faster and get deeper rest.
How to use: Dilute with a carrier oil and rub oil into temples, neck, and chest. You can also add a few drops to a diffuser by your bed, add to a warm bath, or make a mist with water and spray onto your pillow.
Bergamot, orange, lemon, and grapefruit oils have all been found to help reduce anxiety levels and promote relaxation. Some may find the scents relaxing enough to help fall asleep, but others might find their bright scents more energizing, so using these depend on personal preference.
Note that using citrus oils topically may cause the skin to have increased sun sensitivity.
How to use: Add a few drops of oil to a diffuser, or, for a quick refresher, apply a few diluted drops to hands and inhale deeply.
Research shows that sandalwood can ease anxiety symptoms and have sedative effects that may help you achieve a deeper sleep. For some, though, it may improve wakeful relaxation and will be less helpful for promoting sleep, so this oil also depends on personal preference and how your body reacts to it.
How to use: Add a few drops to a diffuser by your bed or make your own mist and spray as needed.
Vanilla is another popular scent for anxiety relief and better sleep. Many aromatherapy mixes for sleep include lavender and vanilla together. Vanilla is known to reduce hyperactivity, soothe the nervous system, and even lower blood pressure, so be sure to try it the next time you’re feeling antsy around bedtime!
How to use: Add a few drops of oil to a warm bath for a relaxing, yummy-smelling bedtime routine!
Rose and Geranium
Both of these oils have light, sweet scents and are shown to counteract anxiety and stress. These are great alternatives to valerian, which, while is very beneficial for sleep, doesn’t have as lovely of a scent.
How to use: We love using these as mists to spray on pillows and blankets before bed. You can also add some drops to unscented oil and use it to moisturize and wind down before bed!
Chamomile is another oil that is known to be a good sleep inducer due to its large amounts of the antioxidant apigenin, which decreases anxiety and has a mild sedative effect. Chamomile is often found in teas that promote sleep and relaxation, and its essential oil can be used for the same things!
How to use: Add a few drops to a warm bath. You can also incorporate having a cup of chamomile tea into your bedtime routine.
Finally, jasmine is less commonly used but just as useful in promoting sleep. Studies have shown that jasmine improves sleep quality and decreases daytime drowsiness. With all of its benefits, it might very well be even more effective than lavender, and it’s definitely worth trying! Plus, it’s floral scent is amazing!
How to use: Apply diluted oil to temples, neck, chest, and feet. Much like lavender, you can use this oil in any way; put in a bath or diffuser or make a mist.
Don’t Let Seasons Get in the Way of a Good Rest
If you’re struggling with sleep during specific seasons or showing signs of seasonal affective disorder, don’t let it diminish your quality of life. Our team of highly trained sleep specialists here at Advanced Sleep Solutions of Virginia are dedicated to your health and wellness and want you to get the best sleep possible so you can function at your very best!
We make diagnosing and treating sleep struggles of all kinds as easy as possible with online scheduling, at-home sleep tests, and a secure telemedicine portal where you can reach a professional at any time.
Keep in mind that while essential oils are indeed a safe and natural way to improve sleep health, every person is different and requires different treatments. Essential oils are most useful in conjunction with professional treatment. Consulting with one of our specialists can help you find the best treatment plan for you!
Struggling with the changing of seasons? Interested in essential oils? We are here to help you and guide you in your health journey! Schedule an appointment online or call us at (703) 689-2480 for a free consultation. Keep in mind that if you struggle with snoring, you may also be asked to use the app Snorelab to monitor your sleeping patterns before coming in for your appointment.