Ahh, winter. That most contentious of seasons. Seems to be, you either love it or hate it, and a lot of that just has to do with perspective. For instance, some see freshly-fallen snow and are awestruck by beauty—others think about how rough traffic will be in the morning. Some people hear Christmas music back on the radio and are immediately filled with holiday cheer—while other would prefer nails on a chalkboard.
But there are some side effects of winter time that nobody is fond of, and one of those is the sleepy, sluggish, can’t-get-out-of-bed feeling which sort of feels like an urge to hibernate. It’s a feeling most of us could do without, and it actually can be harmful to a healthy night of sleep. Here’s some of the sluggish “hibernation” habits we tend to fall into, and how you can beat them in order to get your best sleep possible.
The alarming truth about snoozing
Let’s start at the beginning of your day: with the onset of winter, the typical sunrise will fall somewhere between 7:30-8 a.m., meaning that, if you’re like most 9-to-5ers, it may still be dark when your first alarm goes off. Because you’re getting up when it’s still dark, you may want to sleep in juusst a little longer, because even though the clock says 7 a.m., it just doesn’t feel like 7 a.m. without some sunlight peeking through the blinds.
In which case, you’re likely to turn to your pal, the snooze button. But be warned: hitting snooze does you no favors. When you go back to sleep after punching snooze, you’re basically flipping a coin with a bad outcome on either side: either you get fragmented, poor quality sleep or you fall back into a sleep cycle and your next alarm wakes you up from deep sleep—leaving you more tired than you were at the first alarm.
Our advice: wake up every morning to your first alarm, sunny sky or not (we didn’t say it was going to be easy!).
While we’re on the subject of less sunlight…
If you’re spending time in your warm, cozy home, you might start taking the occasional nap...or two. There’s a good reason for this, though, and it’s not just the fuzzy softness of that throw blanket you’ve got on the couch.
It actually has to do with our sleep’s relationship with sunlight. Your body gets its thumbs-up to start producing sleep-inducing melatonin whenever it senses nighttime (or, lack of sunlight). With the short days of winter, you may wake up in the dark, go off to work, and get home right around the time it starts to get dark again. With so little exposure to sunlight, your body will be more likely to produce melatonin at times when you’d rather be awake.
Our advice: nap wisely! Napping in the late afternoon keeps your body from being able to get to sleep when you want to later on in the evening. If you feel the need for a nap, you should try for earlier in the day, at least before 3pm. Aim for a 20-minute power nap or a fully-refreshing 90 minutes.
Sunshine and exercise
Lastly, some general advice for beating winter time sluggishness: the one-two punch of exercise and good old-fashioned sunlight. Like we mentioned above, it can be hard in the winter to get a little sunlight into your day, thanks to the late sunrise, early sunset, and working indoors for eight hours in between. Taking just a little time out to get in some sun—even if it’s only for a half hour—will do you (and your sleep) a lot of good.
Sunlight is what helps your body to keep time, and the more exposure you get, the more in tune your circadian rhythm will be with the patterns of the day. Exposure to sunlight reminds our body that it still needs to be alert and active during the day.
We didn’t forget exercise either! While winter weather may sound like the perfect excuse for slacking on exercise habits, we encourage you not to give them up. On top of all the other fantastic benefits of exercise, studies show that it also improves your sleep quality (which in turn increases your energy for the next day).
Our advice: try each day to take a brisk walk outside the office or, if you prefer a more temperate workout environment, see if you can snag a treadmill by your gym's windows to get that healthy dose of sunlight.
Let it snow
While the rest of the animal world might head into their burrows and sleep the winter away, we hairless and two-legged folks have a much more efficient option: a good night’s sleep! Getting healthy sleep every night (and making sure we practice sleep-positive behaviors during the day) enables us to live happy, active lives—all year round.