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ePublication of Australian Fitness Network

The cold weather affects our sleep in a number of ways. Sleep coach Cheryl Fingleson shares tips on getting better sleep this winter.

In winter we are exposed to less sunlight, colder air, and more carbohydrate-rich meals, and these can have a significant impact on the human sleep cycle. As well as affecting your own mental and physical performance the following day, a poor night’s sleep will have the same effect on your clients, making them less likely to give it their all in their training sessions (if they even turn up!)

The change in light can have a big effect on the time and quality of your sleep. Light directly impacts the pituitary, which secretes melatonin, which, in turn, regulates the body’s sleep-wake cycles. Lack of light can cause the body to produce more of the chemical, making the body feel tired and sluggish.

For some prone individuals, the lack of light during the winter months, or during the transition from autumn to winter, can also induce seasonal affective disorder (SAD). SAD is categorised by full-fledged depressive episodes that take place regularly during times of seasonal change.

Another significant factor affecting our winter-time sleep is the volume of hearty, dense carbohydrates that we bring to the table. The hormone leptin is affected by eating a surplus of these types of foods, and this is associated with metabolism and appetite. The change in the levels of leptin in the body ends up disrupting the sleep cycle, and these disruptions will cause the body to further alter hormone levels.

The following practices will help ensure a better night’s sleep.

  1. Don’t turn the heater on or only turn it on for a short period of time
    Chilly rooms make us want to switch on the heater, but this is not always the best thing to do when trying to get a good night’s sleep. We actually need our core temperatures to drop a little in order to fall asleep. What’s more, when the night air is too dry or too warm it will dry out the body’s mucous membranes and make the body more susceptible to illnesses such as the cold or flu.
  2. Only eat carbs in moderation
    Maintaining a moderate diet, avoiding excessive carbohydrates and ensuring that plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables are part of the winter diet is important. When our sleep cycle gets disrupted, we wind up craving carbohydrate-dense foods more, but, in fact, they disrupt our hormones slightly, to the detriment of our sleep. It can be a vicious cycle.
  3. Don’t overheat
    Many parents worry about their children and babies feeling cold, but in fact, kids and adults alike won’t sleep well if feeling overheated, with little ones being more inclined to have nightmares or night terrors. So, avoid the urge to pile on the fleece.
  4. Aim for the magic number of 20
    The ideal sleep temperature for most children and adults is around 20ºC.
  5. Invest in sheets
    Polar fleece sheets are a good investment and woolen underlays are great at regulating temperatures.
  6. Insulate your home
    Installing thermal curtains on windows and external doors can help to keep the cold out, and good insulation can make a big difference.
  7. Get out the humble water bottle
    A hot water bottle popped under the covers before bedtime can be both warm and comforting, to children and adults alike. However, don’t leave it in the bed overnight, use a hot water bottle cover, and be careful when filling and emptying.

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