You’re not nuts: Getting out of bed on winter mornings is a physiologically hard thing to do


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Photo: Getty Images/Adam Kuylenstierna EyeEm Graphic by Well+Good Creative

I like to keep things fresh, so here’s a reference from a 1992 episode of The Simpsons: Homer dodges church one Sunday and says, all snuggled in the sheets, “Aaah, I’m just a big toasty cinnamon bun. I never want to leave this bed.” He encapsulates a big mood of waking up in the winter months, when emerging from under the covers becomes nothing short of a Herculean task. But is there any reason why it’s so hard to get out of bed in the winter? You know, beyond brutally cold air, the hug of a perfect weighted blanket, and the enduring vibe of “I don’t wannaaaa.”

Apparently, yes. (So phew, you’re not nuts—but yikes, the struggle is indeed quite real.) “There are physiological factors that make it harder to get out of bed: namely, melatonin,” says Janet K. Kennedy, PhD, clinical psychologist and founder of NYC Sleep Doctor. “Melatonin is the body’s sleep hormone, and it is more plentiful in winter months. Furthermore, exposure to light is what signals melatonin production to stop. So, if it’s still dark when you wake up, your melatonin shutoff will be sluggish, and you’ll have difficulty waking up.”

Well, this explains a lot about my personal morning struggleIt isn’t just profoundly unfair to be up before the sun—it’s confusing on a physical level, as well. While our body clocks are yearning for a Say Yes to the Dress marathon, complete with the warm embrace of a gravity blanket, many of us end up stuck in spreadsheet hell before noon. Physicality aside, waking up in the cold darkness is no simple task for your mood, either.

“It’s hard to feel upbeat when it seems like you should still be asleep. In addition to shutting off melatonin, sunlight is stimulating and helps us to feel more optimistic about the day.” —sleep expert Janet K. Kennedy PhD

“Psychologically, it’s hard to motivate yourself to start the day when it’s dark and cold,” Dr. Kennedy continues. “It’s hard to feel upbeat when it seems like you should still be asleep. In addition to shutting off melatonin, sunlight is stimulating and helps us to feel more optimistic about the day.”

Of course, the winter blues is another, darker reason some cling to bed more during the chilly chunk of the calendar. But if your dread is leading you to miss work or impacting your life or relationships in any other way, something more serious may be at play. If you’re suspicious that you may be suffering from seasonal affective disorder (SAD) or some other depressive condition, Dr. Kennedy recommends monitoring your mood as the morning continues into the afternoon and so on.

“Even when mornings are a real struggle, mood and energy should improve as the morning rolls on,” she says. “If mood and energy remain low throughout the day and, especially if other symptoms of depression are present—such as loss of interest in or enjoyment of pleasant activities, changes in sleep or appetite, poor concentration/indecisiveness, and thoughts about death, dying or harming oneself—it’s important to seek help.”

Listen, I get it: There’s no place like bed. But time there isn’t supposed to take the place of other avenues where you live your life…. Although, nothing’s wrong with channeling your inner Homer Simpson every once in a while and getting your JOMO on.

Want more Sleep Week intel? Here’s why one writer is thrilled to sleep alone, no matter her relationship status. And here’s what it’s like to be an adult who’s afraid of the dark (during every season, FWIW).

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