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winter insomnia

Those of you who have been exposed to ‘T’was the Night Before Christmas for the millionth time are no doubt familiar with the line “had just settled our brains for a long winter’s nap.”

But just who are these folks who sleep so soundly in the wintertime? Certainly not me, or probably countless others who live in colder climates.

For a lot of folks, winter means a whole lot more problems in both falling asleep and staying asleep during the night — hardly the “long winter’s nap” we were led to believe it was as kids.

Here are some of the big reasons the colder weather may take a toll on your nightly zzz’s, and some ideas on how to fix that.

  1. Your house is overheated: You just can’t sleep well if the indoor temperature is hot enough for you  to be wearing shorts and your aloha shirt, especially when you’re under two blankets. If you have a single home thermostat, and it happens to be downstairs, make sure it’s set to a lower temperature before going to bed. As you probably know from high-school science, heat rises, so what feels okay downstairs may well be too warm in your bedroom. But you can easily remedy this by making sure your bedroom temperature is on the cool side during the night.
  2. The air is too dry: Indoor heat also tends to make air too dry, wrecking havoc on your sinuses. Fix this by placing a humidifier in your bedroom.
  3. You’re eating too many holiday cookies: The ‘eating season’ that lasts from Thanksgiving through New Year’s can affect us in ways that aren’t merely visible on the scale. All these extra calories, large meals, and sweet, high-fat foods can disrupt our digestion, causing acid reflux at night (even if you don’t ordinarily suffer from it). And if you’re consuming a lot of  foods containing high fructose corn syrup, that additive can block the “leptin signal” that is your body’s way of knowing it’s had enough to eat, causing you to pig out even more than usual.  The solution is obvious: refrain from constantly nibbling on those holiday treats all day (and night), eat more “normal” portion sizes (even at parties), and don’t allow another morsel of food, or drink, containing HFCS to touch your lips!
  4. You’re having ‘one too many’: Along with the holiday food, pies, cakes and cookies come the drinks. Alcoholic beverages may seem to make you sleepy, but really, falling into bed with your clothes on and waking up several hours later doesn’t exactly make for good quality sleep. Keep the word “moderation” in mind when it comes to toasting the season.
  5. You’re not getting enough exercise: Summertime and warmer temperatures usually mean it’s easy to exercise. Unless you’re an avid winter sports enthusiast, when the ground is icy and you need to put on three layers just to take out the trash, your life may become more sedentary. If you’re not moving enough, your sleep may suffer, so despite the tumbling temperatures outside, you still need to get some type of exercise. You can remedy this by making sure you do something – anything – every day that involves physical activity. This could mean hitting the gym, volunteering to walk shelter dogs, or even walking the mall if the weather is too cold to go outside.
  6. You’re not getting enough sunlight: Lack of daily exposure to sunlight (which should be 30 minutes or more every day), is another “joy” of winter that can steal sleep. When the sun sets at five, it’s easy to lose track of daylight hours. Try as best you can to get your daily dose of sunlight by taking advantage of a sunny day in whatever manner you can — for example, sitting by a window whenever possible or getting out at lunchtime for a walk in the sun if you work in an office. Sleeping better at night will be your reward.
  7. You’re being exposed to the “wrong” kind of indoor lighting: This is a biggie, so listen up.  The sun sets before we know it and bingo, all the house lights get turned on. Looks nice and cheery, but there’s a dark side to that evening glow.

    Your best friend when it comes to sleeping soundly is melatonin. This hormone, released by the pineal gland in the brain, helps regulate our sleep and wake cycles, know as “circadian rhythms.” Melatonin levels are generally low during the day, and start to rev up several hours after sunset. But you can easily zap your melatonin production, and a good night’s sleep, by exposure to light that is “blue,” and by that I don’t mean it looks blue. Fluorescent lighting, especially those energy-efficient compact fluorescent (CFL) bulbs, emits such blue-spectrum light even while appearing to be bright white.

    Sunlight, as strange as it sounds, is also a “blue” form of light, so basking in the glow of your living room CFL bulbs can have the same effect as being outside on a sunny day. Good for daytime activities, but not so good after sunset if you want to sleep at night. Try turning off some of your excessive home lighting in the evening and replacing those CFL bulbs with LEDs whose wavelengths have been corrected to filter out the “wake up blues.”

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Linda Bonvie

Linda Bonvie is an author and consumer advocate with over 20 years of experience researching and writing about food safety, health and environmental issues. She is the editor of FoodIdentityTheft.com, for which she writes twice weekly blogs, and is co-author of Chemical-Free Kids: How to Safeguard Your Child’s Diet and Environment (2003) and Chemical-Free Kids: the Organic Sequel (2008), as well as The Stevia Story: a tale of incredible sweetness and intrigue (1997).

Articles she has co-authored with her brother Bill have been published in a number of top magazines and many major newspapers. One, an expose on the spraying of passengers on international flights with a toxic pesticide, which was published back in 1993, led to the requirement being dropped by a couple dozen countries after then-Transportation Secretary Federico Pena became personally involved in the issue.