Fall into a good night’s sleep

Dare we say it? Fall is almost behind us (sigh) and winter is fast approaching. The days are getting shorter and the nights are getting longer. Before you know it, it’ll be dark when you get up in the morning and dark again before you sit down for dinner. Knowing what’s coming doesn’t make it easier to deal with, though — the seasonal change can wreak havoc on your sleep schedule.

Here, we’ll break it all down and offer some tips you can use to get a good night’s sleep.

How seasonal changes affect sleep

Research into exactly why or how weather and seasons affect rest is still in the early stages. But we do know that the human body is sensitive to changes in light, temperature, humidity, precipitation, and atmospheric pressure.

Take sunshine, for instance. It’s one of the more noticeable seasonal changes.

Shorter days mean less sunlight, right? Believe it or not, that lack of sunlight can translate to problems falling asleep. When you’re exposed to sunshine, your body creates Vitamin D, which does a lot of important things for your body.

As far as sleep is concerned, Vitamin D is involved in the production of serotonin, a chemical our bodies use to regulate the sleep-wake cycle. Low levels of serotonin disrupt that cycle. And that throws off your body’s signal to generate melatonin, the chemical that puts you to sleep and makes you wake up.

10 tips for great sleep

There are several things you can do to outsmart the season and its impact on your body. Here are our top 10 tips to get a good night’s sleep:

  1. Stock up on sunshine. Make it a point to get some sunshine each day — even if it’s only working near a window for a little while.
  2. Cool it. Temperature plays an important role in the onset of your sleep cycle. To help these processes along, keep your bedroom between 60 and 70 degrees.
  3. Avoid napping. If you find that you can’t fall asleep at bedtime, eliminating even short power naps will help.
  4. Go easy on the food. A heavy meal before bed will make it harder to fall asleep — and digestive issues like heartburn, indigestion, and nausea won’t help. If you feel that telltale rumble before bed, grab a small, sensible snack to tide you over until breakfast.
  5. Avoid caffeine. When late fall rolls around, few things are better than curling up with a nice, hot mug of tea. But be careful: black tea contains about half as much caffeine as a cup of coffee. Drink decaf or turn to herbal, white, or green teas so you won’t end up wired instead of tired.
  6. Avoid alcohol. Alcohol is known to cause or worsen the symptoms of conditions like sleep apnea and snoring. It also disrupts your body’s production of melatonin.
  7. Stick to a schedule. It’s a safe bet that, during the week, you get up and go to sleep at roughly the same times every day. Sticking with that schedule — yes, even on the weekends, lazy bones — can make it easier for your body to trigger its sleep and wake cycles.
  8. Mellow your pre-sleep routine. A relaxing pre-sleep routine is a great way to prepare your body for an evening’s slumber. Whatever your routine, be sure to avoid stressful, stimulating activities.
  9. You knew this was coming, right? Stay active during the fall and winter with a vigorous exercise routine. It’ll help you fall asleep faster and sleep more soundly.
  10. Cut back on the screen time. Study after study suggests that electronic devices disrupt our sleep schedules. Ditch those devices — yes, even the e-ink readers that don’t emit blue light — at least an hour before bed.

Still learning about sleep

Research into exactly why or how weather and seasons affect rest is still in its early stages. But if you’ve tried everything on our list — or if you’re technically getting enough sleep but don’t wake up feeling rested — it might be that you’re suffering from some underlying condition that’s affecting your sleep. And that means it’s time to talk to your doctor.

Luckily, you and your doctor can choose from an array of organizations whose sole purpose is to help you get a good night’s sleep, including the Sleep Medicine Centers of Western New York, the Sleep Center at the DENT Neurologic Institute, and many others. With the right treatment plan in place, you’ll be counting sheep in no time.