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  • Written by Candice Meisels



Why the cold weather affects our sleep



 
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.
 
Cheryl the Sleep Coach says. “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.”
 
"Melatonin 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.
 
 
  1. Don’t turn the heater on or only turn it on for a short period of time
 
Cheryl says: “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.”
 
  1. Only eat carbs in moderation
 
Fingleson also recommends maintaining a moderate diet, avoiding excessive carbohydrates and ensuring that plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables are part of the winter diet. "When our sleep cycle gets disrupted, we wind up craving these foods more but in fact, they disrupt our hormones slightly, to the detriment of our sleep. “It can be a vicious cycle."
 
  1. Overheating can lead to less quality sleep and nightmares  
    Many parents worry about their children and babies feeling cold. But in fact, little ones who are TOO warm won’t sleep well (just like adults probably don’t sleep well if they feel overheated either). In fact, toddlers and preschoolers who are too warm at night may be more inclined to have nightmares or night terrors. So avoid the urge to pile on the fleece.
  1. The magic number is 20.
 
The ideal sleep temperature for most children and adults is around 20 degrees Celsius.
 
  1. Do a skin check on your child
 

Cheryl Fingleson advises her clients to do a ‘skin check’ – as the child’s skin should be comfortable to the touch and even a little cool but not cold.
 
For newborns who are swaddled, Fingleson recommends a onesie or piece of footed clothing made from natural fabrics. Over the top of this, parents can swaddle the baby in a cotton blanket. Just be sure that your swaddle is snug enough that your baby can’t kick the blanket loose, but not so tight that he or she can’t move his legs and breathe comfortably.
 
For slightly older babies who are no longer swaddled, Fingleson advises parents to consider a sleep sack. It provides warmth without the suffocation dangers associated with loose blankets.
 
Once children can make a few independent choices, parents can lay a blanket across the bottom of their beds and fold it like a paper fan so they can just grab the top and pull it up if they feel chilly.
 
  1. Invest in sheets
 

Polar fleece sheets are a good investment and woolen underlays are great at regulating temperatures.
 
  1. 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.
 
  1. 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! Just don’t leave it in the bed overnight, use a cover, and be careful when filling and emptying.
 
Cheryl concludes: "It is imperative that families take control of their sleep health, especially in winter. Good sleep is vital for growth, development, health, and happiness. There are plenty of tools available to improve sleep and settling. And if parents can’t do it alone, there is professional help on hand too. Don’t be afraid to ask for help!”
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