December 21 marked the winter solstice, the most daylight-starved day of the year. The sun setting basically in the middle of the afternoon is indeed connected to a mixed bag of effects. On one hand, it makes me want to cling to my mood lamp like a life raft. On the other hand, it’s uplifting for me to know that the days only get longer from here on out. Another silver lining of long nights? Certain winter solstice sleep tips can you help make the most of the darkest day of the year by actually improving your snooze time.
How, though? Well, humans have a natural biological affinity to the dark for maximizing sleep. The body’s circadian rhythm determines when it is or isn’t time to sleep; the sleep-wake cycle largely revolves around this idea that nighttime (darkness) signals rest, and daytime (lightness) means it’s time to rise and shine.
“Our bodies function and respond in synchrony to the natural patterns of the planet,” Douglas Steel, PhD, transitional scientist for NeuroSense, previously told Well+Good. “The sun rises and sets each day, seasons come and go, and temperatures, humidity, [etc] are all perceived through our senses to determine our physiological responses.” Basically, when we descend into nighttime darkness way early, our bodies naturally clock it as a signal to wind down and catch some much-needed shut-eye. While the longer nights don’t mean you need to conk out at, you know, 4:30 p.m., they do present the opportunity for you to use the urge to snooze to your advantage.
So if you’re willing to look on the bright side of shorter days, keep reading for winter solstice sleep tips that help you honor your circadian clock during the darkest week of the year.
5 winter solstice sleep tips to maximize the power of darkness
1. Don’t take your phone to bed
This tip might scream “duh” because of course we’re all guilty of fiddling with our phones in bed despite doing so meaning bad news for sleep. So, a friendly reminder: Blue light from your screen can confuse your body from knowing it’s nighttime. Likewise, if you’re doomscrolling all day, you might be feeding your anxiety endless amounts of dread, and that can impact a good night’s sleep, too. So do yourself a favor and ditch the device if you can.
And if you must check your phone for any reason, switch it to nighttime mode. Red or warmer light is much friendlier to the eyes and can better facilitate sleep (or at least not get in the way of it) when darkness isn’t an option.
2. Switch out your phone for a bedtime story
“Reading before bed is a great way to promote relaxation and wind down from your day, without blue light from electronics interrupting your sleep cycles,” sleep psychologist Joshua Tal, PhD, previously told Well+Good. “TV and phones are often prone to frenetic ads and notifications, bypassing and interrupting the relaxation mechanism that’s conducive for falling asleep.”
If your eyes need a rest from staring at words all day on your computer screen for work, know that there are some great bedtime story podcasts out there. Otherwise, go old school and read a book that either completely fascinates you or bores you to tears. Whatever works.
3. Get yourself a sleep mask to really delineate between light and dark
The downside to getting sleepy when sunset hits is that you likely want a few hours of me-time before you completely conk out. Treating yourself to a sleep mask might help with that; shielding your eyes will signal that this is the darkness that we sleep to, instead of the darkness that simply makes us drowsy.
4. Try out a no-sound alarm clock
Choosing to hit snooze time and time again can spike your cortisol levels and leave you in a groggy, disoriented state. So it can be helpful to A. Scrap the jarring noises and B. Switch to a gentler, soundless alarm. It might even be beneficial if you target a sunrise alarm clock to get you through the colder months. Something like Lumie Bodyclock Rise 100 – Wake-Up Light Alarm Clock with Sunrise and Sunset ($99) can even mimic the sunlight as a means to wake you up. That’s a big win when you’re receiving plenty of day-to-day darkness, but not enough organic sun to keep you alert in those waking hours.
5. And keep your room cool, even if you’re craving coziness
Your instinct might be to stay cozy, but if your heater is actually dialed up during this season, your sleep might be disrupted. About 60°F to 67°F is the optimum temp for snoozing, so keep that in mind if you have jurisdiction over your thermostat.
If you can’t control your indoor temperature (or share your space with someone who has strong opinions) the good news is that cooling sheet sets exist. I’m particularly into Ettitude’s Bamboo Lyocell Sheet Set ($178). It’s elegantly smooth, delightfully chill, and still pairs well with your favorite fur-trimmed sweater blanket.
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