The 3 Habits Experts Swear By For the Best Winter Sleep
As temperatures drop, it’s becoming time to think about all things cozy. Not only does the onset of winter affect your choice of lounging and comfy home wear, it also affects your sleep. Many sleep experts acknowledge that sleep in the winter is different than in other seasons, in large part due to human biology and how our bodies have evolved to recognize sleep cues.
According to Dr. Courtney Bancroft, a clinical psychologist and sleep wellness expert in New York City, “Winter makes for some ideal conditions for sleep because our circadian clocks recognize dark, cool environments as the optimal environment for sending sleepiness signals to the brain.” As the sun sets earlier and the temperature drops, energy levels follow, making you feel sleepy faster. A favorite fuzzy blanket and soothing candle can be clutch for helping you sleep when you need to, but what else can you do to optimize your snuggly winter sleep? We asked the experts to share their own sleep routines for the best winter sleep ever.
Practice regulating your bedroom’s temperature
Heaters are great—they keep you warm and cozy while you’re curled up on the couch. But all of that warmth can actually mess your circadian rhythm up when you’re finally winding down for bed. “The modern comforts of electricity and heat (sometimes in [older] apartments, heat that we can’t control) can sometimes get in the way of our brain registering the dark, cool environment that nature has created for us” as the optimal place to sleep, Dr. Bancroft said.
Luckily, there are a few products that can help. Susan D’Addario, a certified sleep science coach, recommended The Bed Jet, a fan that goes under your bed and connects to a tube that blows cool air between covers. This “cooling mattress” technology allows you to regulate the temperature when your apartment building may not. She also suggested The chiliPAD by Ooler, which connects to a basin of water and distributes cool air throughout the bed. “I have a lot of happy customers using [the chiliPAD],” D’Addario said. She recommends keeping the temperature at 70 degrees or below while sleeping even if that means adding an extra blanket or layer. “Your brain is attuned to the ambient temperature,” she said. “We are wired to associate coolness with sleep.”
If you have the ability to control your heating system, Dr. Joshua Tal, a clinical sleep and health psychologist in New York City said setting his heater to be warmer in the early evening, cool during the night, and warmer again in the morning has helped him sleep more soundly. “Our bodies naturally cool down when we sleep,” he said via email. “The warmth pre- and post-sleep provide comfort, but the cool air at night gives our body good conditions for deep sleep.”
Limit your exposure to blue light
Most experts said to be aware of your light exposure close to bedtime. D’Addario suggested wearing blue light-blocking glasses while getting ready for bed. In the winter, she puts hers on around 8 p.m., and opts for those with amber or orange-colored lenses for an additional boost. Uvex, Swannies, and True Dark are her favorite brands.
Michelle Hotaling of Michelle’s Sanctuary, an online brand geared toward lulling you to the best sleep possible through guided meditations and hypnotic bedtime stories, also recommends blackout curtains to avoid unwanted light coming in from neighborhood streets.
Establish a bedtime routine
Bedtime routines are an important part of experts’ habits. “As much as possible,” Dr. Bancroft said, “set a bedtime reminder to dim the lights, and begin to cool the room about one hour prior to bedtime.” She calls this 45-60 minute period before bed the “buffer zone.” She said this period should be “chock-full of personalized rituals” to help you feel as comfy and soothed as possible.
“Some things that I do personally are turn down the lights, or light some candles;” she said. “[C]ozy up with a soothing blanket (soft and/or weighted blanket); have some warm decaffeinated tea.” (Sleepy Time tea is her go-to.) Watching a mindless show or listening to calming music might also help your sleep ritual, but Dr. Bancroft suggested training your brain to associate certain rituals with sleep. “I also use a lavender pillow spray that helps me to behaviorally remind the brain that it’s bedtime each night, by pairing the scent with my bedroom,” she said.
Hotaling has a few winter wind-down rituals of her own, too. “Studies have shown that melatonin helps with seasonal affective disorder,” she said. “So I start to add this to my routine with magnesium to better relax.” She also uses a lavender spray on her pillows, and invests at least 20 minutes a night to journal and prepare for bed. As she put it, she likes to make sleep feel like “the spa treatment we all deserve” at the end of a long day.
“Listen to your body,” Hotaling said. “Remember you’ve earned and deserve this time for sleep.”