What is it about the fall and winter that make us want to stay in bed and sleep more? We all know that with the colder weather and shorter days, the tendency to feel fatigued and want to crawl in bed is high. But experts say our basic sleep needs don’t actually change between the seasons. In fact, too much sleep can be just as damaging to certain areas of your health as not enough sleep.1
Why does the colder weather make us feel this way then? The primary reason we may feel more tired and sleepy during the winter has to do with a change in melatonin production. Melatonin is our master sleep hormone, and it gets produced mainly by the pineal gland in the brain in response to darkness.
Melatonin is the reset button for our circadian rhythms, the body’s internal clock system that influences everything from cellular health to hormone signaling to mental acuity and more. It’s also a potent antioxidant, immune modulator, and master rejuvenation hormone, and has been proven to actively promote the health of your DNA. This is why it’s so important to sleep in a dark room at night.
During the darker days and longer nights of winter, melatonin production can increase and levels may rise earlier in the day, causing daytime sleepiness and triggering imbalances in our sleep cycles and natural circadian rhythms. This might make it harder to fall asleep or wake up at our normal hours, and deplete our energy levels during the day.
Tips to Help You Sleep Better
Here are some targeted suggestions you can apply to rebalance your circadian rhythms and optimize sleep cycles during the fall and winter.
Stay Bright—Making sure you get enough exposure to bright light in the darker days of winter can help reset your rhythms, by mimicking the light exposure you would get from a longer day with earlier sunrise and a later sunset time. Artificial light is helpful for this, since bright daylight might be limited this time of year. Specialized light therapy boxes designed for winter light exposure can make a difference in supporting balanced melatonin production, helping maintain energy throughout the day, and allowing for deep sleep at the proper time of night.2
Eat for Energy AND Sleep—Lean proteins, fiber-rich foods and healthy fats, as well as brightly colored vegetables that provide an abundance of phytonutrients and fiber, all support sustainable energy during the day. Over time, these foods can rejuvenate and rebalance our nervous system, digestion and other key systems that contribute to better quality sleep. There are also specific foods that can directly support more restful sleep, which can be eaten in the late afternoon and evenings to help support nighttime relaxation and melatonin production. For example, the amino acid tryptophan is what makes you tired after a Thanksgiving dinner. Tryptophan is found in most meats, but is particularly high in turkey. Our bodies convert it into serotonin and melatonin, which helps us relax and sleep. Bananas and lentils also provide tryptophan, as well as magnesium and potassium, which help relax as well. Cherries also provide melatonin.
Balance Rhythms with Mind-Body Exercises—Yoga, Tai Chi, and Qi Gong are time-honored mind-body exercises that help balance your body’s natural cycles and rhythms, supporting deeper sleep, greater energy, and other areas of health and wellness.
Supplements for Healthy Sleep Cycles—Some experts recommend taking melatonin in the evening before bed to help maintain healthy sleep cycles. However, high doses of melatonin can make you feel groggy and tired the next day. A small amount of melatonin, less than 1 mg at bedtime, can allow you to fall asleep at the right time and sleep more soundly, so you wake up with more energy.
Another supplement that can help balance sleep cycles is pure honokiol, an active extract derived from Magnolia bark. Pure honokiol offers numerous powerful benefits, including lowering cortisol, and promoting more restful sleep. When cortisol levels are lower in the evening, melatonin levels can raise naturally at night to support optimal sleep/wake rhythms.
In my practice, I recommend a multi-targeted sleep formula that contains a small amount of melatonin, together with honokiol and a blend of powerful Chinese herbs that work to rejuvenate key systems during sleep and optimize the body’s nighttime repair processes.
Rejuvenating nighttime sleep is one of our most valuable assets for optimal health and healing. By taking these measures, we can help the body manage circadian rhythms and regulate our biological clocks, ensuring optimal sleep cycles and overall energy during the winter, and year-round.
- Léger D, Beck F, Richard JB, Sauvet F, Faraut B. The risks of sleeping “too much”. Survey of a National Representative Sample of 24671 adults (INPES health barometer). PLoS One. 2014 Sep 16;9(9):e106950. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0106950. PMID: 25226585; PMCID: PMC4165901.
- Culnan E, McCullough LM, Wyatt JK. Circadian Rhythm Sleep-Wake Phase Disorders. Neurol Clin. 2019 Aug;37(3):527-543. doi: 10.1016/j.ncl.2019.04.003. Epub 2019 May 29. PMID: 31256787.