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Health Focus 101: Sleep Hygiene to get Your Best Winter Slumber!

By Dr. Schoer

Many people have no problem getting a good night’s sleep during the winter months – after all, it is the season of long nights, cozy warm blankets, and snuggling by the fireplace. But for all the reasons that winter and sleep go well together, the opposite can also be true.

For some people, winter can wreak chaos on sleep quality and quantity. If you’re one of those people who finds that winter months mean more tossing and turning at night, here are some tips that may help your winter slumber!

#1. Soak up the morning light

Fewer hours of daylight in the winter can have a large impact on a person’s sleep-wake cycle. This is because our sleep-wake cycle is controlled by melatonin, a hormone that helps the body prepare for sleep. Melatonin is suppressed during sunlight hours and this allows us to feel awake and alert, and as it gets darker, melatonin is released and helps our body wind down for bed.

During the winter months, our hours of daylight are reduced and sunlight may not be as bright therefore our melatonin levels rise earlier in the day and may not be suppressed during the day as effectively as it is in the summer months – this leads us to feel sluggish and more fatigued during the day, and we also don’t get that big push at night to help us really wind down for bed.

To counteract these seasonal changes, getting bright light shortly after waking up may help you feel more alert and awake during the day and may help improve that big push of melatonin at night to fall asleep. Try sitting by a window while enjoying your morning coffee or breakfast, and definitely avoid bright lights before bed to keep your melatonin secretion on schedule!

#2. Don’t skimp out on exercise

Cold weather, late sunrises, and early sunsets can make it hard to feel motivated to exercise, we totally get it! But moving for at least 30 minutes a day can help expend extra energy during the day, helping you drift off to sleep easier at night. In fact, research has shown that exercise improves your sleep quality, specifically improving total sleep time and how long it takes to fall asleep. If you’re having trouble finding motivation, try finding a buddy to exercise with or join a gym that’s close to home or work, or sign-up for virtual exercise or yoga classes (pssst, The Nock Academy, located here in Stouffville, has graciously provided our patients 50% their 7-day trial pass with code ADVANCED – definitely check it out!).

#3. Avoid overeating and alcohol before bed

Consuming a large meal might feel like the perfect thing to put you to sleep, however in the long run, overeating and weight gain can decrease sleep quality. Also, eating too close to bedtime can trigger symptoms such as heartburn and stomach discomfort, which interrupt sleep. To limit overeating, try reducing temptations by getting rid of sweets and highly processed foods, drink plenty of water to help with digestion, and find other sources of comfort that aren’t food such as taking a warm bath or enjoying a hot cup of tea.

Additionally, limiting alcohol consumption before bed is important as alcohol can act as a stimulant. When alcohol is consumed, it acts as a sedative, however when your body metabolizes and excretes alcohol, it then acts as a stimulant – this is why its common to fall asleep with alcohol in your system, but then wake up a few hours later and not be able to go back to sleep.

#4. Keep stress levels low

Winter can be a stressful time of year with the holidays, keeping up with New Year’s resolutions, and going back to work after enjoying time off with family. The winter months can also trigger depressive symptoms in people with seasonal affective disorder (SAD). These stresses can interfere with your ability to have a good night’s sleep, so anything you can do to lower stress levels is going to be good for your sleep hygiene. Research has shown that the calming effects of meditation can reduce stress and improve sleep quality.

#5. Have a comfortable pillow and mattress

How comfortable you feel when settling in for the night can have a significant impact on how quickly and soundly you fall asleep, and your pillows (and mattress!) can play a huge role with this! A comfortable and supportive pillow, like the ChiroFlow water-based pillow available at the clinic, can make all the difference for a good night’s sleep. There are different types of ChiroFlow pillows, but all have the patented Water-base that you fill to your preferred level, so these pillows are extremely customizable. The first type has original fibrefill/synthetic down that offers comfort and ease for those who prefer a softer support. The second type is made with memory foam that provides more structure. The last type, geared towards those who get hot with foam, is made with memory foam and a cooling gel. These pillows will surely enhance your sleep hygiene and better yet – all types are featured at 15% off this month! Give the gift of better sleep to someone special (or yourself) this holiday season.

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