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5 Surprising Ways Cold Weather affects Sleep

Cold weather, sleep, and this woman in bed

Imagine it’s fall or winter. You imagine heading to your ghostbed mattress, cuddling in blankets, and falling asleep soundly until morning. That’s the hibernation many people crave at that time of year. However, the brisk season can lead to some unexpected changes in the bedroom too. What you might not realize is that cold weather affects sleep patterns, and exactly how.

Disclosure: This post is sponsored by Slumber Search, a leading authority for mattress reviews from top brands.

The Link between Sleep Habits and Cold Weather Makes Sense

The temperatures outside force the body to make specific changes. And with winter comes shorter days and extended evenings. With these alterations, the body changes to cope with them.

Over time, sleep researchers are discovering how the body changes, as does the mind, to the different seasons. While this post focuses on brisk weather, the body also changes to adjust to warm environments. Below are 5 specific ways that cold wather affects sleep.

1. With Colder Weather, Sleep Comes Faster

If you’re one of the countless people who like to cuddle up with multiple blankets at night, you might want to think twice about doing so tonight. Research confirms that the way to ensure you sleep faster is sleeping in a cool room; the reason for this effect is the body’s natural temperature cycles.

Over the course of a day, your body temperature fluctuates. Contrary to popular belief, it doesn’t stay constant. Instead, it will fall and rise slightly in cycles. But it is at its lowest level when you are in deep sleep, usually at around 5 in the morning. In fact, as you become drowsy, the temperature of the body goes down gradually, and it rises gradually as the morning progresses.

When your bedroom is very hot or warm, it becomes difficult for you to sleep. And that makes you more restless throughout the night. Because of this sleep pattern, avoid turning up your thermostat when the temperatures dip as cool air will actually help you sleep.

2. Sleeping in a Drafty Room Makes Your Sleep Lighter

Fresh air is great, as your parents likely told you as a kid. However, when it comes to sleeping, opening your windows to the drafty air of winter is a bad idea. The same holds true for opening your bedroom door to let in a cool breeze.

In fact, a 2017 study revealed that sleeping under drafts makes you shift more often during your sleep to try and stay comfortable. With this cold weather sleep is obviously not coming easy. Your heart rate likely rises and you wake up more often during the night.

All of this happening is defeating the purpose of why you are going to bed in the first place – to catch some zzz’s! If you can, block the draft to sleep better as soon as possible.

3. Longer Sleep Times because of Low Light in Winter

Winter is not exactly the best season in existence – the low temperatures, the possibilities of getting sick, and the lack of sufficient daylight because the nights are shorter. It is perfectly normal for you to feel sleepy earlier in the day, so you do not need to think something is wrong with you.

In fact, the sleep cycles are affected by the access you have to natural light. That’s why if you go out in the sun when feeling sleepy, you’ll feel more awake because of exposure to natural light. That increases the hormone seratonine in the brain. The less light there is, the more melatonin, on the other hand, there is in your body. Ultimately that affects your natural cycle of wakefulness and sleepiness.

Sleep better knowing resesarch

4. Cold Makes the Body Work Extra Hard

Yes, cold weather affects sleep quality and the same is true of warm weather changes. For instance, the hotter or more humid it is outdoors, the less deeply you will sleep generally. Furthermore, your sleep will be less refreshing. That’s not super surprising news though if you’ve ever tried to sleep when the weather is hot.

Cold weather has an interesting effect though. While sleeping through cold conditions is great and helps you sleep better, the body ends up working a bit harder than usual. In fact, the heart rate goes up during the winter, as does blood pressure, even while asleep. Scientific research actually reveals this occurrence is probably the reason why the rate of heart attacks increases during the winter months, not directly because of the cold.

Note that it’s often easier to fall sick during the winter due to lower immunity, which is a consequence of reduced exposure to sunlight. Sleep can become quite uncomfortable due to colds and allergies, which force you to use medication. But these medications can help to improve sleep quality.

5. Cold Weather? The Body Produces Lower Levels of Sleep Disrupting Hormones

It’s normal to think of winter as stressful and summer as a relaxing time of the year. However, research reveals that cortisol, a hormone that the brain produces when you are under stress, is at its lowest levels during the winter and highest in summer. On a normal day, cortisol levels will be at their lowest when you are asleep; then their levels change tthroughout the day while you are awake.

This point is important to make because the levels of cortisol affect your sleep habits, especially when they are very high. All this explains why you will find it impossible to sleep when you are stressed out. And now you get why you likely feel relaxed and sleepy in cold weather on a rainy night. Yes, it’s because of those significantly lower cortisol levels.

Final Thoughts on Cold Weather and Sleep

While there is still a lot to learn about how the cold weather affects sleep cycles, the above points are a great start to figuring out how to get more zzz’s. It’s important to know that the seasons play an important part in your sleep and general health. In addition the seasons, alcohol also affects sleep.

Lastly, it’s natural to find sleep in a cool room cuddled in your blankets very appealing. And knowing that scientific research conforms it is feels great too.

Do you find your sleep is better or worse during a certain season? 

29 thoughts on “5 Surprising Ways Cold Weather affects Sleep”

  1. It is nice to finally have some decent weather in Michigan. Sleeping with the window cracked is the best- the birds and frogs are so noisy but it’s relaxing

  2. We definitely prefer a cooler room at night, so a programmable thermostat is very helpful. Also, we have to use our light-blocking curtains, especially in the summer, because otherwise we wake up before the alarm.

    1. Do the birds wake you up some mornings too, Amy? I ask that because sometimes their singing is an early alarm clock for my mom ;)

  3. petespringerauthor

    As a fussy sleeper, I agree with these points. Fortunately, my wife and I prefer a cool room, and we normally leave a window open. Being too hot is the worst when you are trying to fall asleep. While I enjoy the longer days of spring and summer, I do find myself waking earlier due to the early morning light.

    Slightly off the topic—trying to go to sleep after intense exercise doesn’t work for me. I like to play racquetball, but I’ve learned to do it earlier in the day if I want to sleep well.

    1. That’s a good point about exercise and finding what works for you. Some people prefer night exercise. I’m usually mid-day by time I get to gym ;)

  4. Here we have sun throughout the year as a good tropical country, so we have not gone through these circumstances. In any case, it is good to know about these aspects of cold sleep.

  5. Melissa Seifrit

    I definitely like a cooler room and then warmer blankets. Though one foot always ends out :-)

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