Catch Those ZZZ’s: Sleep Hacks for Winter Insomnia

February 2024 | Dr. Madelein Shafferman

Winter Insomnia

Do you struggle to fall asleep or stay asleep at night, particularly in the wintertime? It’s not uncommon for people to experience winter insomnia during the colder, darker months! No matter which state you live in, reduced daylight exposure is a common theme. And here’s why this matters: light exposure directly affects our melatonin and hormone production!

So, what can we do to improve winter insomnia? How can we increase light exposure and support hormone production during the winter months? In this article, we explore the unique role that light exposure plays in our overall health, and offer practical tips you can incorporate into your routine to achieve restful slumber.

What is Winter Insomnia?

Winter insomnia is a type of insomnia associated with seasonal weather changes, primarily manifesting in fall and winter due to reduced daylight exposure. Winter insomnia can also be a symptom of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

Common Symptoms of Winter Insomnia

  • Disrupted sleep and waking frequently
  • Difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep
  • Racing thoughts at night
  • Difficulty concentrating throughout the day
  • Alternating periods of insomnia and excessive sleep
  • Changes in appetite and weight

Melatonin and Winter Insomnia

Melatonin is a hormone produced in the pineal gland in the brain and functions to regulate our circadian rhythm (aka the body’s internal sleep-wake clock). We are programmed to rise with the sun and function with the light of day — so when there is less daylight, we tend to be less functional!

With winter insomnia, the lack of sleep at night can contribute to napping during the day. However, oversleeping in the day can disturb the circadian rhythm and the production of melatonin, making it harder to break the cycle of restless nights and daytime grogginess.

While some individuals may find melatonin supplements helpful for supporting sleep, relying on nightly sleeping pills and supplements ultimately masks the underlying problem and is not a helpful solution for chronic sleep issues! So, what can we do to reduce the impact of winter insomnia?

Strategies to Sleep Better

Reclaim Your Energy

Embrace winter as a time to slow down! While you may not be able to hibernate in your bedroom for 3 months, you do have the power to adjust how and where you spend your energy. Simplify your schedule by planning fewer outings and keep structured activities to a minimum. Plus, doing so allows you to really enjoy one activity to the fullest!

It’s important to listen to your body; Overbooking your calendar is a fast track to burnout and overwhelm. Remember, you can also pick up the pace in the summer months! Your energy is valuable, so choose quality interactions over quantity.

Take Your Sleep Seriously

If you have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, establishing a bedtime routine can help! For starters, keeping your room cool and dark, and making sure your bedding is clean and cozy can set the tone for a comfortable, relaxing night.

Stimulants like coffee and alcohol can have lasting effects into the night, so be mindful of your consumption throughout the day (or avoid altogether). Additionally, watching stimulating or stressful shows before bed can leave your brain feeling wired. Consider reading, stretching, or taking a soothing bath to wind down.

If you wake in the night and don’t fall back to sleep within 10-15 minutes, move to a different room and engage in a mundane task (but avoid eating). When you feel tired again, try going back to bed!

Minimize Blue Light Exposure

While blue light is a wavelength that can be emitted from the sun, our exposure primarily comes from our screens! Blue light inhibits the production of melatonin and promotes wakefulness, and too much exposure can wreak havoc on our circadian rhythm.

So, here’s our biggest tip for a restful night: Avoiding screens is KEY. Even sleeping next to your charging phone at night can disturb sleep! Consider wearing a quality pair of blue-light blocking glasses throughout the day to reduce the effects of blue light, keep electronics off and out of the bedroom, and avoid screens at least an hour before bedtime.

Get Some Red Light

Ideally, you’d bask in the sun first thing in the morning and throughout the day to naturally support your melatonin production and circadian rhythm. Unfortunately in the winter, the sun comes up too late (often when we are already on our way to work), and harsh weather conditions can make it challenging to brave 15 minutes outside for sunlight exposure.

Using a red light device can help to simulate the effects of sunlight exposure! These devices are easy to use and easy to incorporate into your daily routine; You can get red light exposure in the morning while brushing your teeth or making breakfast, and in the evening while getting ready for bed.

Beat Winter Insomnia and Catch Up On Your ZZZ’s

Like many mammals, we tend to be less active during the winter. Biologically, our bodies want to enter into a rest and digest mode — So supporting your sleep with the strategies above is KEY! However, if you can’t seem to shake winter insomnia on your own, working with a trusted healthcare professional is your next best step.

At ISAIH Natural Medicine, we understand the crucial role that sleep plays in your hormone production and overall health! Schedule an appointment with our team today; We’re here to help you catch those ZZZs, so you can enjoy this season to the fullest.