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How Does Winter Affect Your Sleep?

Now that winter is upon us, with varying degrees of Mother Nature’s fury affecting parts of the nation differently, what effects should we expect from cold, rain, sleet, snow and wind?

Winter obviously differs in many parts of the country, but winter can bring three effects upon our sleep experience. First comes the diminished light, then the cold, and finally eating habits affected by the clime and the holidays.

First, light — with less sun in many parts of the country, diminished light means a diminished production of melatonin. “Light directly impacts the pituitary, which secretes melatonin,” Chair of the Homeopathy Department at Bastyr University’s School of Naturopathic Medicine Dr. Brad Lichtenstein, N.D., explains.

Second, the cold — this is kind of a Catch 22 situation. Cold temperatures will also decrease melatonin production, but rooms artificially heated will dry out the mucous membranes, making us more susceptible to colds and the flu. Kind of you can’t win either way, but keeping temperatures at about 70 might be a happy medium.

Finally, eating habits — from Halloween through New Year’s (and then the Super Bowl), we tend to consume lots of carby, starchy and sugary foods. And if we’re also sleep deprived, we crave these substances for quick energy fixes. Eating and sleeping in the winter months can represent a vicious cycle.

The hormone leptin is influenced by these wintry eating habits, and excess leptin can disrupt our sleep. “When our sleep cycle gets disrupted, we wind up craving those foods more and we don’t know when we’re full,” Dr. Lichtenstein says. “If we continue to eat like this, it will affect our sleep… it’s a vicious cycle.”

Is there a cure to winter’s effect on our sleep and eating? Probably the solution lies in clinging to good sleep-hygiene habits and eating and drinking in moderation.

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