8 Cold-Weather Tips for Better Sleep
Dr. Nayantara Santhi, PhD
Dr. Nayantara Santhi is an associate professor of psychology at Northumbria University in Newcastle. Santhi’s body of work includes numerous articles on how circadian rhythms regulate an individual’s sleep-wake cycle. Santhi’s articles have also focused on related elements such as bright light exposure and melatonin production.
It’s time to pack away your flip-flops, and bring out the pumpkin spice lattes. Fall is here, and the colder winter temperatures are on their way. Besides staying warm, winter brings its own unique challenges for sleep. From dry air and more frequent colds, lots of these may steal slumber.
“One of the most noticeable when winter occurs is the cooler temperatures,” says Dr. Nayantara Santhi. “Temperature plays an important role in sleep. Generally, a cooler temperature facilitates sleep. To achieve the right balance of cool but not cold temperature in the winter is important.”
“Not surprisingly, it is not just the room temperature but also the temperature regulation of our mattress that is important. A mattress that is breathable may be good for the winter months to offset the warm clothes we may wear to bed.”
More than just a temperature change, cooler weather affects the air, habits, and even sleep. However, there are always ways to improve your quality of sleep if you find yourself waking up in the mornings feeling unrested. Brush up on healthy sleep tips by reading our other sleep hygiene guides.
Getting Better Sleep in Cold Seasons
Let’s take a look at sleep concerns specific to winter and how to cope with a drop in temperature.
Make Your Bed Warm and Inviting
Add more comforters and blankets to your bed, but make sure they also feel breathable. Layering is better than having one thick, heavy blanket. With both thick and thin covers, you can pull layers off through the night if you get too warm. This makes it easy to maintain your optimal comfort level with minimal hassle.
Natural fabrics are more breathable than synthetics for your base layers. Cotton and bamboo sheets are nice, and flannel sheets or covers can be soft and comforting in colder weather. Just ensure the fabric is good quality so it does not pill or become stiff after a few washes. Jersey knit sheets are also becoming popular to beat the winter chills!
Pairing your winter sheets with a duvet, down comforter, polar fleece or wool blankets on top can ensure you stay warm. Wool is particularly breathable, the fibers wicking excess heat away while promoting a still-toasty feel.
Electric blankets, mattress warmers, and heating pads can help, but older products should be inspected carefully to avoid a fire hazard. Make sure you use newer, quality-tested products and inspect cords and components before your first seasonal use.
If you’re looking for new bedding and unsure where to start looking, check out some of our buyer’s guides:
Warm Up Your Body Before Going to Sleep
If you get cold easily, it may help to warm your body before going to sleep. Choose cozy pajamas and dress in layers. Layers not only trap body heat to keep you toasty warm, but allows you to quickly get comfortable you feel too hot.
Long-johns, flannel shirts, and polar fleece pajamas are great choices. Throw a sweater overtop of a t-shirt for added heat. Wear socks or slippers to bed as your feet often feel the cold first.
To increase your core temperature slightly, drink hot tea, a cup of warm milk or water with lemon and honey before bed. Just make sure it is caffeine-free or you will have trouble falling asleep. See our guide on how caffeine affects sleep.
Take a warm shower or bath before bed, or do light exercise, such as stretching or deep breathing to warm you up. If possible, cuddle! Borrow some warmth from your partner.
Keep Your Immune System Strong
In cooler weather, people are more likely to congregate indoors. With exposure to more people in smaller spaces, you increase your chances of coming in contact with someone who has the cold or flu and catching it yourself.
One of the keys to keeping a strong immunity system is being well-rested. Studies show that T-cells go down and inflammatory cytokines go up during sleep deprivation, making us more prone to catching a cold or flu. So ensure you are getting enough sleep to ward off illnesses, and if you’ve caught a bug, prioritize rest so your body can more effectivity fight it off.
Humidify Dry Air
The dry winter air coupled with indoor heating often makes skin itchy, hair brittle, and gives clothes static cling. It also may negatively affect your sleep, causing you to snore, cough, or wake with a scratchy throat, bloody nose or muscle cramps.
Luckily, there are a number of ways to get a little more moisture into your home. The easiest solution is to purchase a humidifier or steamer. Department stores, groceries and larger pharmacies all typically offer a few models. Fill your machine with water before you go to bed and let it run through the night. If you are at home, run it during the day too.
For simple DIY ways to add moisture to the air, hang wet clothes to dry, put pots of water or wet towels on registers and radiators, or leave bowls of water around the house. You can also spruce up your decorating with little potted succulent plants, water filled vases for flowers, or a water feature which will serve double duty of releasing moisture into the air.
If your housemates don’t mind, leave the bathroom door open when you are showering, or leave some water in the bathtub so it can evaporate naturally into the house.
Check Your Mattress Support
Mattresses have a lifespan of around 8-10 years, depending on the type of mattress. After years of use, they lose support and start to become less comfortable.
Find yourself tossing and turning at night and waking up less refreshed? Check your mattress to see if it is sagging, lumpy, creaking, or there is an impression left where you were sleeping. These are all signs that you should replace your mattress.
There are a few perks to the cooler weather – most importantly, the holidays and Black Friday shopping. If you need a new one, check the Black Friday mattress sales to snag yourself a high-quality mattress for a great bargain.
Get Enough Light
You probably know it’s best to sleep in a dark room during the night. But you’ll also want to make sure you are getting enough light during the day. In northern zones, the sun shines a lot less during the winter. You may feel like staying in bed longer.
But, if you feel lazy or lethargic during the day, this may be a sign you aren’t getting enough sunlight during the shorter winter days. When exposed to sunlight, your body produces vitamin D. This essential nutrient keeps bones strong, boosts immunity, and helps fight off numerous diseases.
Try to spend some time each day outside. At the least, sit near a sunny window if you are oversleeping or feeling sluggish or agitated during the day. You can also try light therapy or talk to a doctor if the darkness of winter drains your energy. In extreme situations, a lack of sunlight can result in a depression-like disorder caused Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).
Warm Your House for Less
Want to keep your house warm without the sting of an excessive heating bill? There are a few more eco-friendly things you can do to keep your bedroom at a comfortable sleep temperature for less money.
Invest in a programmable thermostat. Drop the temperature a few degrees while you are at work and in the middle of the night. Have your furnace kick in before you come home and when you get out of bed in the morning. You will be heating the house when you need it the most, and saving energy when you are away or bundled up in bed.
Find and repair the source of cool drafts. You may have to re-caulk windows or invest in a plastic window covering kit to keep out cool air during the winter. If there is a draft coming in under your bedroom door, roll up a towel or blanket and place it at the base. Check outside doors as well too make sure they prevent drafts.
Use your stove or oven to cook supper. It will add a little heat to the air while you make yourself a meal. Just don’t forget to turn the oven off when you finish.
Space heaters may also offer more concentrated heat where needed in larger, more open homes. This can be more efficient than heating a large house, depending on the space heater. Always be sure to check safety information and inspect before a new season.
Get Enough Exercise and Eat Healthy
Besides getting a good night’s sleep, exercise and eating well are the key to helping you survive winter with minimal discomfort. As daunting as it seems to step outside in the snow, you will feel better by regularly exercising for better sleep throughout the winter months. Go to a gym or join an indoor soccer league to stay active out of the cold. Or, take up snowshoeing, skiing, or skating for an outside activity.
You may feel like eating heavier, comfort food through the winter months. But, it is important to maintain a well-balanced diet through the entire year. Steer clear of warm, caffeinated beverages at night, and spicy or acidic foods if you are prone to heartburn. Try warm milk for sleep or another relaxing beverage.
There is no need to hibernate like a bear through the winter months. Use these tips to keep warm, healthy, and well rested and in no time the flowers will be blooming for spring.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do you sleep more in winter?
Yes, people tend to find themselves sleeping an hour or more in the winter. As the winter nights are longer, people tend to fall asleep sooner and wake up later.
For many individuals, a little bit of extra sleep isn’t a problem. However, if you find yourself feeling overtired during the winter months, try to spend more time outdoors during the daytime for increased sunlight exposure.
How should you sleep in winter?
The key to sleeping in the winter is a good daytime routine that ensures you’re well without overeating, exercising regularly, and getting enough sunlight. When it’s time for bed, make sure you’re tucked away under breathable bedding that keeps you warm without overheating. Make sure you’re getting a full night’s sleep of at least 7 hours.
Can a bedroom be too cold?
Yes, a bedroom can be too cold and keep you from sleeping well and feeling refreshed. Home temperatures below the 60s can be uncomfortable or even dangerous. Doing what you can ti stay comfortably warm at night can ensure you stay warm and safe.
Is it better to sleep hot or cold?
For a good night’s rest, it’s better for things to be a little bit cold. Not too cold, as lower temperatures can make it difficult to sleep. But even room temperatures in the high 70s and 80s can make it difficult for a sleeper to nod off at night.
What’s the perfect sleeping temperature?
Most people find room temperatures in the 60s and low 70s are the best temperatures for sleep. The exact temperature that’s most comfortable can vary person by person, but this is a good range to aim for when it’s time to fall asleep. Age can also affect what your preferred room temperature is, so you may find it changes slightly throughout your life.