Ask the Sleep Nerd: How to Turn the Winter Blues Into the Best Night's Sleep
March 25, 2023
Author: Breanne DeMore
The winter season always starts with a bang. The holidays are in full swing, celebrations await around every corner, and the year’s latest chapter finally comes to a close. However, once the lights come down, the fireworks fizzle, and the ball that we dropped rolls into the new year, it can be easy to feel like the only thing having trouble resuming normalcy is you. Enter: the winter blues. With darker days and longer nights come other changes, and while a dip in your mood and energy may seem like small shifts, Seasonal Affective Disorder (S.A.D), or “the winter blues,” can take a huge toll on your sleep.
But small shifts, matched with small adjustments, can equal impactful rewards. Our Head of Sleep Experience, JD Velilla, knows this best. With his help, we’re sharing all his “Sleep Nerd” tips on how to transform those winter blues into the best sleep—all season.
What Is Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), also known as Seasonal Depression, and How Can It Affect Your Sleep?
Seasonal Affective Disorder, also known as Seasonal Depression, is a form of depression disorder triggered by the change of seasons. While depression may impact others throughout all times of the year, SAD primarily affects the population in the fall and winter. Though the exact cause of the condition remains unknown, researchers suggest a relation between SAD and:
- Lack of sunlight – Sunlight balances serotonin, boosts Vitamin D, and regulates melatonin, essentially ensuring you feel happy when you want to and sleepy when you need to. With winter’s darker, shorter days, the lack of sunlight leads to less regulation over our mood and our level of drowsiness.
- Negative thoughts – With holiday blues and gloomy weather looming over the season, many people experience anxiety as winter approaches. This anxiety, which can both cause and result from SAD, can amplify Seasonal Affective Disorder symptoms.
Characterized by depressed mood, increased anxiety, weight gain, and excessive drowsiness, Seasonal Affective Disorder is a severe, debilitating condition. The winter blues, on the other hand, is a mild form of SAD distinguished by general feelings of sadness, fatigue, and a lack of motivation.
Though milder in symptoms, the winter blues can still affect your life in significant areas—namely, your sleep. Shorter days and longer nights, waking up to darker mornings, and habitual low moods are all seasonal challenges that negatively affect your sleep and overall wellness.
Why Is a Great Night’s Sleep Essential for Overall Wellness?
Sleep is essential for overall wellness because it cyclically impacts our physical, mental, and emotional states. Lack of sleep is directly linked to increases in depression, anxiety, mood irregularities, and even dementia. Contrarily, restful sleep accounts for a decreased risk of health problems, serious illness, and stress. Coping with the winter blues can seem difficult, but it’s imperative to develop strategies to mitigate its effects on your sleep. No matter the time of year, good sleep is critical to good health. When you prioritize restful sleep, your body responds in kind.
How to Combat Weather Changes to Boost Your Winter Mood
How we sleep is directly related to how we feel, so it’s important to combat those winter blues with daily mood boosts. Before winter arrives, plan for less exposure to natural light. As sleep expert JD Velilla warns, “Wintertime means less daylight and greater exposure to false indoor lighting. We need to prioritize natural light exposure and get as much of it as we can during the day.” From limiting exposure to artificial light to going on walks every day, JD recommends combatting winter blues by:
- Going outside – Prioritize natural light exposure by taking frequent trips outside during the day. Even if it’s overcast outside, bundle up and soak in as much sun as possible by going on walks, reading, or simply sitting outdoors.
- Limiting your exposure to artificial light – Though artificial light is unavoidable—especially during the winter months—limit your exposure by opting to keep lights off during the day. Once the night arrives, dim or completely turn off your lights at least 90 minutes before bed.
- Realigning your biological clock – Your biological clock helps you feel alert during the day, hungry at mealtimes, and tired at night. It activates naturally with the light—signaling to our body that it is time to rise. However, dark winter mornings can misalign this signal. To mitigate the wintry mornings and internal confusion, invest in a sunrise alarm that will bring light to your bedside, so you wake up more naturally.
- Creating an ideal sleep environment – No matter the weather outside, your sleep environment should fall between 65-68 degrees. Set your thermostat accordingly and ensure you’re sleeping on a mattress designed to maintain your thermal comfort. Layer a thick duvet with sheets below 400 thread count and ditch the PJs for breathability and comfort all night.
- Practicing Mindfulness – Exercise, meditation, and similar mindfulness techniques are great ways to combat the winter blues. Each day, start with a glass of water and practice a mindful routine that lasts 10-15 minutes. Then, perform it 2-3 times a day. For example, 10 minutes of meditation or a 15-minute walk after lunch can go a long way toward boosting your mood.
Whether it’s starting your day outside with the sunrise or drinking water with electrolytes before your morning coffee, small, mindful changes can offer the best treatment for beating your winter blues.
How to Use the Winter Weather For Your Benefit
Though it’s easy to recognize the drawbacks to winter weather, there are many hidden benefits too. The winter brings colder temperatures and shorter days—but those both can be conducive to better, deeper sleep. Expert JD explains,
“During the winter, we can let our thermostats drop naturally to 65-68 degrees, keeping our bodies in the ideal thermal comfort zone all night long. Winter is also a great time to start relaxing sooner before bed. The darker, shorter days allow more time to wind down on the couch in PJs and your favorite throw blanket before bedtime.”
JD counsels everyone to use the changes they make during winter to create lasting routines. Winter provides an excellent time to reflect on your actions and consider how small changes can impact and improve your rest throughout the year. When resolving to improve your sleep—no matter the season—JD advises to,
“Prioritize your sleep and pick one small thing you can change. From starting a sleep routine to reducing your daily caffeine consumption, start small and create small wins. Don’t seek perfection or try to drastically change things. Small changes tend to stick and become habits far easier than big changes do.”
When considering the benefits of winter, it’s apparent that three elements are crucial to beating the blues: preparation, mediation, and balance. By preparing for the lack of sunlight exposure, creating routines to adjust to winter’s changes, and balancing the benefits of the season, it is possible to use the winter weather for your benefit all year.
Create Healthy Sleep Routines All Year Long with T&N
At Tuft & Needle, we know how important it is to develop and stick to healthy sleep routines for a restful 365. The general blues can hit you any time of the year, and if it does, we’ll always be ready with a solution. For the times when your winter radiator works a little too well, our linen sheets optimize breathability for your ideal thermal comfort. And for the mornings that resemble the night? Wake up more naturally with the Loftie, a sunrise alarm that gently rises you with light. No matter the season, we, and our resident sleep nerd JD Velilla, will always strive to help you make lasting changes for better, deeper sleep. Because when you sleep better, you feel better, and when you feel better, we do too.