Thanks to the body’s circadian rhythm, or 24-hour sleep-wake cycle, humans have a natural affinity to the dark for maximizing sleep. Essentially, the cycle revolves around the ways that light signals wakefulness by triggering the release of cortisol, and darkness brings on sleepiness by setting off the release of melatonin.
“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.”
The bright side of shorter days could be more (and deeper) sleep each night.
As a result, when the darkness of night arrives earlier, so, too, does our natural tendency to wind down and get sleepy. 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 that urge to snooze to your advantage.
In that way, the bright side of shorter days could be more (and deeper) sleep each night. To honor your circadian clock during the darkest week of the year, read on for sleep tips optimized for the winter solstice.
6 winter solstice sleep tips to maximize the power of darkness
1. Don’t take your phone to bed
A great many of us are guilty of fiddling with our phones in bed, despite the negative effect of phone use on sleep. So, a friendly reminder: Blue light from your screen can confuse the operations of your circadian rhythm, flooding your eyes with light when the time of day signals darkness. Likewise, if you’re doomscrolling all day, you might be unnecessarily feeding your mind an endless string 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 full 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, too. 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 completely right before you go to bed will signal that this is the darkness present when you’re sleeping, instead of the dimness or darkness of the evening that simply makes you drowsy.
4. Try 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.
One great option? A sunrise alarm clock. Something like the Lumie Bodyclock Rise 100 – Wake-Up Light Alarm Clock with Sunrise and Sunset ($99) mimics the pattern of light from a sunrise in the morning whenever you set it, ensuring that you can wake up naturally even when it’s still dark outside in the morning. 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. Increase your vitamin D intake
With daylight at the bare minimum around the winter solstice, chances are you’re getting outside less and soaking in less sunshine—which could put you at risk for a vitamin D deficiency. While research is still underway to determine whether vitamin D can boost sleep quality, it’s clear that a deficiency can put you at higher risk for sleep issues.
In that vein, to keep your sleep chugging along smoothly all winter, it’s smart to incorporate a few vitamin D-rich foods—like eggs, salmon, and dairy products—into your diet to help make up for the deficit created by the dip in sunlight, sleep neurologist W. Chris Winter, MD, advisor for Sleep.com, previously told Well+Good.
6. Keep your room cool, even if you’re craving coziness
Your instinct might be to get extra-cozy on winter nights, 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), cooling sheet sets are another alternative. 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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