After we reset our clocks last week, you might have had a hard time getting to sleep and found it even harder trying to wake up in the morning. You’re not alone. But the problem isn’t just the time change – it goes deeper. Evolution has programmed you to sleep later in winter.
Several mechanisms work together within the body to make you dread getting out of bed in the winter months. Here’s what’s happening inside you and what you can do about it.
Your Vitamin D Levels Are Low
Vitamin D, the “sunshine vitamin,” is produced by the body when sunlight hits the skin. It plays many roles in the body, one of which is regulating your sleep. In the winter months, daylight hours are shorter and the sun’s rays are less powerful, causing vitamin D levels drop across all demographics.
A recent study by the University of Naples Federico II in Italy shows that vitamin D deficiency can negatively affect sleep through multiple pathways.
- The main takeaway: Less light means worse sleep.
Your Melatonin Levels Are High
Melatonin is the most important hormone for regulating sleep cycles. An increase in melatonin sends you off to sleep at night. Ever feel like it’s impossible to keep your eyes open? That’s melatonin at work.
Trials by the National Institute of Mental Health proved, “Melatonin is produced for a longer time in winter when nights are long than in summer when nights are short.”
- The main takeaway: Short days makes you feel sleepier.
Fruit Flies Have The Answer
A scientific study from Northwestern University discovered another mechanism that may be working against early morning wake-ups in wintertime.
Researchers discovered a sensory circuit in the brains of fruit flies that blocked the brain cells which promote wakefulness. This circuit is activated only at colder temperatures.
Lead author Professor Gallio explained, “This helps explain why – for both flies and humans – it is so hard to wake up in the morning in winter.”
- The main takeaway: The cold makes you feel less awake.
How To Wake Up Early in Winter
Whether or not you understand the science behind sleep and waking up early in winter, there are simple science-backed approaches you can use to wake up early, feeling refreshed.
Try Getting More Vitamin D
The first thing you can do to wake up earlier is to fight vitamin D deficiency. How? Make a conscious effort to get more sunshine on your skin.
If the cold weather prevents going outside, you can sunbathe next to an open window for five minutes to boost your vitamin D levels for the day.
Put Your Heating on a Timer
Temperatures between 60-67 degrees are ideal for sleep, but you need a slightly warmer temperature in the morning. To stop your “fruit fly circuit” from firing, ensure the ambient temperature is above 68 degrees when you wake up.
The most straightforward way to achieve this is to put your thermostat on a timer. Set it to increase the temperature about an hour before you want to wake up.
Light Up Your Room in The Mornings
The body stops melatonin production when it starts to sense light, which reduces that tired feeling. The light also activates cortisol production, which your body needs to wake up and overcome the melatonin.
Schedule your bedroom lights on a timer to come on in the morning. It will stimulate your hormones as well as irritate your eyes. The bright lights will make you too uncomfortable to keep sleeping, assisting your body chemistry.
A nice alternative may be to invest in a lamp or two that slowly increases the light intensity, mimicking the sunrise.
Brew Coffee in Your Room (Or Make Toast)
Coffee makers with timers are nothing new, but that just-brewed smell doesn’t always make it into the bedrooms. The answer? Find a space in your room for your coffee machine. Coffee also increases cortisol production, the “wake-up hormone.”
Try staying in bed when a pot of fresh coffee is brewing in the same room! It’s impossible.
Find Something You’re Excited To Do
Without a good reason for getting up in the first place, it’s much easier to give in to the cozy call of your bed covers.
No one has satisfying days all the time. But if you haven’t had a meaningful day in more than a week, it might be time to set new goals or find a new hobby.
If You Still Oversleep, Blame Biology
Using multiple strategies is a great way to build a new habit or overcome an old one. It may take more than one of the methods above to get you consistently out of bed this winter.
If you fall victim to a soft, warm bed and end up late to work, try telling your boss that biology is to blame. He’d probably rather still be in bed too.