Seasonal shifts cause us to change our clothing, our Starbucks orders, and our decorations, but do they also affect our sleep? The answer is a resounding yes. It’s no coincidence that you’re, perhaps, sleepier in the winter and ready-to-go in the summer. That being said, we must first understand why we experience a change of season to begin with.
Seasons Are a Result of Our Planet’s Tilted AxisSeasons are a result of our planet’s tilted axis—23.4 degrees, to be precise—as it orbits the sun. As we make our annual journey around the center of our solar system, one or the other of Earth’s poles (North or South) is tilted towards said sun. When one pole is tilted toward the sun and its solar energy of light and heat, that half of the Earth experiences summer. This tilt and the way it causes parts of the globe to be exposed to variations in sunlight and, therefore, heat leads to what we call seasons.
The Disruption of Our Standard Sleep Patterns is Caused By:
Light FluctuationDays get shorter in the winter (less sunlight, more night) and longer in the summer (more sunlight, less night), changing our body’s access to natural light. Light exposure maintains our circadian rhythm or sleep/wake cycle and so this seasonal shift may make it harder to fall asleep, stay asleep, and/or wake up in the morning. Seven to nine hours of sleep is typically quoted as the healthy standard year-round, but you may find that you need an hour or two more in the winter than you did in the summer to feel equally rested. Exposure to light also influences melatonin production, a hormone that stimulates sleepiness. Low light (winter) increases melatonin, where as bright or artificial light suppresses it, hence why many electronic devices are adopting a special nighttime filter and both blue light blocking glasses and blue light protection supplements are becoming increasingly necessary to shield our eyes in this modern age. In the summertime, melatonin secretions are thought to occur earlier in the night compared to winter months, causing people to go to sleep earlier in the evening and wake up earlier as well. The sun rising earlier in the morning during the summertime inevitably affects our internal clock, shifting the timing of our sleep window. Not only does less sunlight in the wintertime mean more melatonin, but you’re also exposed to less vitamin D. Vitamin D directly affects our serotonin production—the hormone known to increase feelings of joy and happiness—so it only makes sense that many people express feeling tired and/or depressed in the winter months.
Temperature FluctuationSimilar to light, temperature and sleep health are interconnected. It’s not surprising then that temperature is likely the second largest factor when it comes to change of season affecting our sleep quality. Cooler temperature is believed to induce melatonin production—there is a reason we tend to cozy up and sleep more in winter months. Experts suggest that your bedroom temperature stays between 60-67 degrees throughout the night for a better quality of sleep. Temperature fluctuation, across the board, affects our sleep/wake cycle so pay attention and play around with what works best for you and your body.
MoodIn 2018, the American Physiological Society found that cortisol, our body’s main stress hormone that ideally should be lowest at night, actually spikes in the summer. Cortisol interferes with sleep when it’s too high so if this study is accurate, cortisol being lowest in the evening during the wintertime may lead to less stress at night and thus better sleep. As many as ninety percent of people report their moods and energy levels as being affected by change of season. For some (four to six percent), this can develop into seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a type of clinical depression that’s related to changes in seasons. This disorder is significantly more common during winter months due to the lack of light and the cold, hence the phrase “winter blues.” Many people claim to experience a downward shift in emotion during winter months, however, and these tired, depressive symptoms may result in a loss of energy and require more sleep.
AllergiesAllergies are hypersensitive responses from the immune system that occur when certain individuals breathe air containing allergens—typically harmless substances that cause their immune system to release chemicals called histamines. This can lead to inflammatory responses such as watery eyes, congestion, coughing and sneezing. Different allergens are present in the air during different seasons (i.e. flowers and tree pollen in the spring or grass pollen and ragweed in the summer) and, depending on what you’re specifically allergic to, the difficulty breathing that ensues may translate into restless nights of little sleep. The negative side effects of certain allergy medications that provide respiratory relief can include both insomnia and drowsiness, repeatedly affecting your sleep/wake cycle as well.
So, What Can We Do?Well, you can’t fight mother nature—we are talking about the Earth and its axis here—but you can exert some control over your individual sleeping environment. When it comes to light, temperature, stress levels, and allergies, try your best to strive for year-round consistency and take advantage of what is within your power:
- Control Your Light Exposure: Your room can remain dark with blinds or blackout curtains to increase melatonin levels. Even in winter months when there is less sunlight during the day, go outside for at least 20 minutes to absorb some essential vitamin D.
- Control Your Room Temperature: Take advantage of thermostats, fans, space heaters, and humidifiers. Exercise earlier in the day so that your body temperature drops in the evening, making you ready for sleep.
- Anticipate Time Changes: As you prepare to fall back an hour, ease yourself into the time change by adjusting sleep/wake times over several days. Take naps when needed, but make sure they’re only around 20 minutes so that you can still fall asleep in the evening without disrupting your cycle.
- Do What Makes You Happy: Exercise, get out in the sun, meditate, and participate in activities you love whenever possible to increase your endorphins and serotonin levels and improve your mood. Peace of mind allows for a better night’s sleep regardless of season.
- Naturally Keep Allergies at Bay: Air purifiers and humidifiers can be amazing for allergies, as can the right allergy medications during the evenings (daytime drowsiness may lead to naps and even more restless nights).
- Opt for the Best Sleep Supplements: Sometimes a great sleep supplement is what’s needed to help regulate circadian rhythms and kickstart healthy sleep habits. Omax MAX SLEEP is clinically proven to improve sleep quality and overall wellness after just 3-nights. This natural, full-spectrum hemp CBD sleep aid supports the body’s endocannabinoid system for optimal relaxation with an added fusion of Omega-3, L-Theanine and Lemon Balm. Don’t forget to keep a travel pack on hand so that you can remain in rhythm even when away from the comforts of your own home.