Why the shift in season might affect your sleep


Why the shift in season might affect your sleep

Lucy Shrimpton, Sleep & Well-Being Expert
Why the shift in season might affect your sleep
Our body clock which is called our circadian rhythm, is typically how our bodies know when it is night and day. Today, we have electricity and light emitting devices around us 24/7 so we are no longer programmed simply by the rising and setting of the sun.

Artificial light can impact our secretion of the sleep hormone, melatonin meaning light exposure can wake us up! Likewise, a dark environment will promote more melatonin which will help us sleep.

We can use this to our advantage by decreasing light in the evenings to support a healthy bedtime and, in the winter months, when we have no daylight until later in the morning in some parts of the world, using a sunrise lamp can artificially stimulate the shift in hormones. Melatonin is decreased while serotonin and cortisol are released, waking you up!

New research suggests that even with artificial light and blackout blinds, our human manipulation is not enough to override seasonal changes to our sleep needs and it is possible that we are biologically wired to need more sleep in the winter.

When we wake up and it is dark, the brain believes it is still time for slumber so it is no wonder we want to sleep more in the darker, winter months.

That said, we live our lives by routine to accommodate work, school and social time and it is not common practice to carve out an additional hour for sleep in the winter. This may be a factor in winter blues (low mood) and increased illness because we cut short some of the vital stages of sleep that contribute to our health.

As we move into spring, the mornings rapidly become lighter earlier and we feel more awake and energised earlier. The exposure to daylight first thing in the morning sets the internal clock for the day and that daytime alertness will wear off the longer we are awake. However, with lighter evenings as well, we are not going to feel sleepy as early as we might benefit from.

Overall, the light-dark cycles of the seasons play a part in our sleep-wake cycles, ultimately providing us with more awake time in the Spring and Summer. As we emerge out of winter, it might feel like coming out of hibernation as we adjust to a new feeling with more wakeful hormones in our systems for more of the day.

Simulating sunrise in the winter and using an eye mask or black out blinds to block out light in the summer are simple ways we can keep ourselves and our children in healthy sleep all year round.

Paying attention to our sleep needs is important and making sure that we and our little ones are getting enough. The shift into Spring is a great time to adjust your schedule, carve out adequate sleep time and support your body’s circadian rhythm. 

(Research: https://www.frontiersin.org/journals/neuroscience/articles/10.3389/fnins.2023.1105233/full)

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