Common winter sleep problems & how to fix them

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Winter brings a lot of changes with it, including less daylight and much colder temperatures. And it turns out both of these can seriously throw your sleep schedule out of whack.


Luckily, there are some easy steps you can take to sleep better during the winter. Here, learn how to cope with the three big seasonal stealers of sleep.


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1. Less sunlight

The days are now shorter, meaning there’s a lot less opportunity to be out in the sunshine. The lack of natural light can contribute to a condition called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), which is essentially the medical name for the winter blues. According to American Family Physician, 4% to 6% of people may experience seasonal depression, while as many as 10% to 20% may have a mild case of SAD. The condition is four times more common in women than men, and it also becomes more common the further north you go. (So if you live in Wisconsin, for instance, the likelihood is higher than if you live in Florida.)


A study published in the Journal of Psychosomatic Research found that sleep disturbances are one of the hallmarks of SAD, characterized by excessive daytime sleepiness. That’s because the extra darkness messes with natural circadian rhythms and causes the body to produce more melatonin, the sleep-promoting hormone, leaving you feeling a lot more tired.


The solution: Get more sunlight. Depending on where you live, that can be difficult in the dead of winter, but it’s not impossible. Bundling up and going for a 10-minute afternoon walk is one way. If you have SAD, light therapy has been proven to work. A light therapy box mimics sunshine, boosting your mood and alleviating symptoms of SAD. Look for a light therapy box that provides 10,000 lux of light exposure, turn it on within the first hour of waking up, and use it for 20 to 30 minutes.

2. Dry air

Bye, bye moisture. Winter air is notoriously dry, and that can leave you pretty uncomfortable. Think: dry skin, dry eyes, dry nostrils, dry throat. On top of that, the dry air makes it easier for you to get sick, and as you’re probably well aware, sleeping well with a cold or the flu is not easy. Your nostrils need mucous to block viruses from making their way into your body—but when the air is dry, they can’t work as effectively. Also, bacteria and viruses usually live longer in dry air after someone coughs or sneezes, upping your risk of getting sick.


The solution: Place a humidifier in your bedroom. A humidifier emits water vapor to keep the air moist, which will help alleviate the symptoms of dryness and irritation. It may even help you sleep better and curb your risk of getting the flu. In a study published in the journal Environmental Health, participants who used a portable humidifier slept longer than those who didn’t use one—and in homes with a humidifier, flu germs didn’t linger in the air as long as in homes without one.

3. Too much heat

Cranking up the heat in your bedroom is tempting, but it can actually make falling—and staying—asleep harder. According to the National Sleep Foundation, the ideal temperature for slumber is between 60° and 67°. One of the precursors to sleep is a drop in body temperature. Keeping the room too warm can interfere with that natural process and make falling asleep more difficult.


The solution: Resist the urge to raise the thermostat. Instead of pumping heat, try a more insulating blanket or an electric mattress pad. Or sleep in socks—science has shown that wearing socks to bed helps you fall asleep quicker and stay asleep longer. And best of all, it doesn’t cost a thing.


Ready to spruce up your bedroom for the season? Here’s how to create a cozy winter bedroom.




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The important lessons cats can teach about sleep


One restless night, when sleep seemed to elude me with every stroke of the clock, I found myself staring at my cat Parker. I felt a slight pang of jealousy at how easily sleep came to him. Even in the most peculiar spots, he finds just the right conditions to drift off into sleep.


A house cat can average over 16 hours of sleep a day. There’s a reason why we call them “cat naps” and not “dog naps.” It dawned on me that I was living with a sleep expert. To learn some important lessons about sleep, I had to look no further than my cat.


Here are some things Parker, my personal sleep guru, has taught me over the years.


This one’s a no brainer. I thought I knew this until I realized that I wasn’t prioritizing my sleep enough. I was letting trivial things get in the way. My cat, on the other hand, will cuddle up into a nap whenever and wherever he sees fit, even if he blocks my view of the TV.


Making sleep a high priority means arranging your day around it. It means turning off the TV and putting the phone away at least an hour before bedtime.

That next episode or after-hours email can wait.


Sleeping with intention is a thing — and cats are very good at it.


Spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle once said, “I have lived with many Zen masters, all of them cats.”


Cats always seem to be in a perpetual state of meditation. Whether they’re peacefully perched on a windowsill or stalking an unsuspecting bird, every part of them is buzzing with the present moment. I can guarantee they’re not thinking about a clumsy move they made hours ago. They’re fully in the here and now. This is why Parker never has any trouble catching a quick cat nap whenever the opportunity arises.


It’s all too easy to get bogged down by to-do lists and the chaos of everyday life. Our pets remind us to give ourselves permission to press pause. Doing things purely for the sake of fun not only helps us unwind, but it also helps us get out of our head (see previous lesson) and release stagnant energy.


Playtime sets us up for better sleep — and a better life.


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Cats don’t require a lot to relax. We really should take cues from their constant state of contentment.  Keep things simple before bedtime. Don’t overindulge at dinner, skip the late-night snack, declutter your space. Say no to “just one more episode” of that docuseries.


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My cat may not take bubble baths before bed, but he always indulges in a relaxing grooming session after dinner. I, too, have learned how soothing a self-care routine can be to wind down the day. Whether it’s a nightly skincare routine or a short yin yoga session, carving out time for mindful self-care can make all the difference when it comes to getting better sleep.


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Cats are very in tune with their bodies. They stop eating when they’ve had enough, take a nap when it beckons them and take every opportunity for a good stretch.


Through the daily hustle and bustle of human life, it’s all too easy to lose this sacred connection with our bodies. We mindlessly scarf down too much food too fast, we push past the point of exhaustion, we ignore telltale signs our bodies are sending us to slow down.


So the next time you see your cat enjoy a leisurely stretch, let it be a reminder for you to take the time and do the same.


Spoil your kitty with the comfiest sleep surface possible. Here’s how to choose the best pet bed for your cat.



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