How many times this year have you thought, “I’m exhausted!” and/or “My pants are tight! Have I gained weight?”
Winter this year, has been long. It might’ve started off slow and mild…. (We all had hopes of a nice easy winter)…. but with the long days of December and January, and now the dark storms of the last two weeks, it FEELS like it’s been longer than usual. (It really hasn’t been. But our bodies do not know this.)
The common theme is “I’m tired” of this weather, shoveling snow, bad roads…. I’m just “TIRED!”
There are three ways that winter affects our sleep patterns.
- The Winter Blues—lack of light causes every animal to have a slower state of mind. As we know, some animals hibernate, some humans have “Seasonal Affective Disorder” (which can appear as young as two year’s of age) and some of us just get moody and/or tired. The lack of light affects the pituitary which secretes melatonin. Melatonin (a hot topic catch phrase these days) regulates the body’s internal clock, letting us know it’s time to sleep, and it’s time to be awake.
- Colder Air—yes—believe it or not, when air is too cold, it also affects melatonin cycles! When we turn on the heat it can dry out mucous membranes, causing us to be more susceptible to colds and other viruses. Being sick affects mood and sleep patterns as well.
- Eating habits. While we eat lighter in the summer time, heavy winter “feel good” or “comfort” foods come into play. These foods affect the body’s hormone levels, which affect sleep, weight gain, mood, etc.
MedicalNewsToday.com reports the effects of sleep deprivation as:
- Not getting enough sleep prevents the body from strengthening the immune system and producing more cytokines to fight infection. This can mean a person can take longer to recover from illness as well as having an increased risk of chronic illness.
- Sleep deprivation can also result in an increased risk of new and advanced respiratory diseases.
- A lack of sleep can affect body weight. Two hormones in the body, leptin and ghrelin, control feelings of hunger and satiety, or fullness. The levels of these hormones are affected by sleep. Sleep deprivation also causes the release of insulin, which leads to increased fat storage and a higher risk of type 2 diabetes.
- Sleep helps the heart vessels to heal and rebuild as well as affecting processes that maintain blood pressureand sugar levels as well as inflammation Not sleeping enough increases the risk of cardiovascular disease.
- Insufficient sleep can affect hormone production, including growth hormones and testosterone in men.
The National Sleep Foundation (NSF) 2015 recommendations for appropriate sleep durations for specific age groups are:
- Newborns (0 to 3 months): 14 to 17 hours each day
- Infants (4 to 11 months): 12 to 15 hours
- Toddlers (1 to 2 years): 11 to 14 hours
- Preschoolers (3 to 5 years): 10 to 13 hours
- School-age children (6 to 13 years): 9 to 11 hours
- Teenagers (14 to 17 years): 8 to 10 hours
- Adults (18 to 64 years): 7 to 9 hours
- Older adults (over 65 years): 7 to 8 hours
Interestingly enough, according to Dr. Lichtenstein of Bastyr University’s School of Naturopathic Medicine, “When our sleep cycle gets disrupted, we wind up craving those foods more and we don’t know when we’re full. If we continue to eat like this, it will affect our sleep… it’s a vicious cycle.”
So, the next time you think that your winter weight and sleepiness are just in your mind, you can rest assured. (Or not rest… )