Winter is the season we spend the most time snuggled up in bed. When it gets dark at 6 p.m. and it’s bitterly cold outside, all we want to do is jump in bed when we get home and stay under the covers for as long as possible on freezing winter mornings. If that sounds like your typical cold weather routine, you may be surprised to learn that the winter months are actually the worst for your sleep cycle—even with all that extra time in bed.
Why is winter bad for our sleep cycles?
According to new data from the popular Sleep Cycle app, Americans spend more time in bed in December than any other month—but interestingly, it’s also one of the worst months for sleep quality. The Sleep Cycle study, which surveyed the sleep habits of over 166,000 app users over the last four years, reported that on average, Americans snore 2.5 more minutes a night in December than the rest of the year—likely due to stress, winter weight gain, and change in sleep schedules around the holidays. This leads to less than ideal sleep since an increase of snoring may disrupt your sleep pattern and can lead to daytime sleepiness and trouble concentrating.
There are also environmental factors that are proven to disrupt your sleep in the colder months: The National Sleep Foundation recommends a temperature range of 60-67 degrees Fahrenheit as the best temperature for a perfect night’s sleep. In the winter, we tend to crank the heat to combat the frigid temperatures outside, meaning the inside of our home can actually be warmer than during the summer. Even if you keep our home at relatively the same temperature all year, bumping the heat up a few degrees and snuggling down into a pile of blankets can actually be detrimental to your sleep.
The National Sleep Foundation also reports that dry winter air contributes to difficulty sleeping as well. Winter weather dries out your skin and nasal passages (even more so if you snore!) which means you’re more likely to catch the cold and flu germs that are already floating around. You’re also more at risk for a dry, itchy, and irritated nose and throat—none of which makes for a restful slumber. For your best night’s sleep, use a humidifier (these 7 are our favorites) to keep your bedroom’s humidity level at 50 percent year-round.
None of this sounds ideal, right? While many of us are still experiencing frigid temperatures as we enter March, there is light at the end of the tunnel. Spring and summer are right around the corner, which means better sleep is coming.
So what makes summer so great for sleeping?
With the absence of winter’s negative sleep effects, we’re bound to get better shut-eye in the summer. But there are a few additional factors that make the warmer months even better for our sleep cycles.
According to the National Institute of Health, our production of melatonin (the hormone that makes us sleepy) varies across the seasons. When humans are exposed to sunlight early in the morning, our nocturnal melatonin production happens sooner—which is a fancy way of saying we’ll fall asleep more easily that night. You don’t even have to spend any additional time outside for this to take place in the summer; the effect happens naturally, as long as there’s a window in your bedroom.
So we’re already ahead of the sleep game simply because the sun rises earlier in the day and emits stronger rays. But Americans typically spend the most time outdoors in the summer, which gives us an extra leg up in the sleep department. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, the hormone that makes you happy and calm. But did you know that serotonin is actually the precursor to melatonin? Exposure to sunlight produces serotonin in our bodies, which later turns into melatonin and improves our natural quality of sleep.
What we’re getting from all these scientific facts is that spending a summer day pool-side may be one beneficial thing we can do for our sleep health, which is totally fine by us. Just be sure you apply liberal amounts of the right sunscreen if you spend time outdoors; just because the sun is good for our sleep doesn’t mean it is good for our skin.