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Catch a cold and a sleep problem: How to protect your sleep during winter

It is that time of year in the northern hemisphere. Our days are shorter and skies are greyer. As the outside world becomes drearier, the temptation to lie in bed all day grows. We enter hibernation mode. But this time of year promotes the development of poor habits which can impact your sleep. Here is some advice to protect your sleep during winter.

As tempting as it is to remain in bed all day to keep warm during the winter months, try to avoid this becoming a habit. By spending more time in bed, our long sleep starts to break up into little naps. Over time, the bedroom environment becomes a place for wakefulness, not just the place to sleep. This means that it becomes increasingly difficult to sleep in bed when you actually want to, and remain asleep for as long as you want to. We then need to spend more time in bed to get the same amount of sleep that we used to, which can lead to serious sleep problems. Avoid this by only staying in bed when you are sleeping – have a hot shower or curl up on the couch to keep warm instead.

The limited amount of natural light during winter can also play havoc on our sleep. Exposure to light is very important for keeping our body’s internal clock, our circadian rhythms, in check. Circadian rhythms determine when we feel the need to sleep and when we feel awake. Many people have circadian rhythms that are slightly longer than the 24-hour day. Left to their own devices, people will gradually go to bed later and sleep in later over time.

Because natural light is a rare commodity in winter, our circadian rhythms are more likely to shift at their own whim. Bright light exposure in the morning helps to keep our circadian rhythms in check so that we can maintain our sleep schedule. Although we want to stay indoors protected from the cold, we actually need to be outside more in winter to expose our bodies to enough sunlight. If the bitter cold is too much of a deterrent for you, you may benefit from light therapy glasses in the morning to get additional light exposure and maintain your circadian rhythms.

Protect your sleep by getting enough exposure to light in the morning and avoid spending time awake in bed to ensure that you don’t catch more than a cold during the winter months. If you are ever concerned about your sleep, consult your healthcare professional.

By Hannah Scott

Hannah is a PhD (Research) Candidate from Flinders University

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