VSC insomnia winter 1

by Lauri Leadley 

In the animal kingdom, sleep and winter go hand in hand. For wild animals, the cold weather brings a time of hibernation. But for people, it can have the opposite effect. Winter has been known to lead to sleepless nights and insomnia. Why is that?

Here are three reasons why insomnia is worse in the winter:

Lauri Leadley, Clinical Sleep Educator, President of Valley Sleep Center

The days are darker. In the winter, daylight doesn’t last as long, and the sun doesn’t shine as bright. For this reason, you may feel extra sleepy and lethargic throughout the day. So, when it’s time to sleep, it may be hard to sleep because you have been sluggish and lazy all day, and your body simply doesn’t feel as though it is time to go to bed. Essentially, the lack of daylight hours has confused your sleep/wake cycle.

When you are exposed to light first thing in the morning it inhibits melatonin production and stimulates cortisol. (1)  Expose yourself to light first thing in the morning, and throughout the day to help improve your mood and allow you to sleep better at night.

Artificial light works, but it is not quite as effective as natural sunlight. First thing in the morning, open the blinds and/or curtains in your home and allow the sunlight to come streaming in. Even better, put on some warm clothes and go for a walk or sit outdoors on your porch as you sip on your morning coffee or tea. Just 15-30 minutes of sun exposure early in your day will do wonders for your sleep/wake cycle and make it easier for you to sleep.

The temperature in your sleep environment is hard to control. Even in the mild winter climate we have in the Valley, it gets cool enough at night that we turn on our heaters. Unfortunately, if you keep the house too warm, it will negatively impact your ability to sleep and sleep well. People tend to sleep better when they are in cooler environments. (2)

We are naturally wired to lower our core temperature when we are going to sleep, and you don’t want to interrupt that important temperature drop. The National Sleep Foundation suggests you sleep in a room that is between 60 and 67 degrees Fahrenheit for optimal sleep. (3)  If your bedroom is too warm or you are overdoing it with blankets and warm pajamas, it can disrupt the production of melatonin and contribute to insomnia. (4)

Did you know? A side effect of using a heater in the winter is that the air gets drier. When the air is dry you are more likely to sleep with your mouth open, which leads to snoring. This snoring can disrupt sleep. You should sleep with a humidifier in your room to help keep the air moist.

If you aren’t comfortable with keeping your home these temperatures all day, simply lower the thermostat about an hour before bed so that your body temperature and bedroom are a bit cooler and more receptive to sleep.

Meals are heavier. It is not uncommon for people to eat heartier meals in the winter months. These comfort foods warm our insides on a cool winter’s day like nothing else can. Unfortunately, if you eat these kinds of meals too late in the day it can keep you up at night, as they take longer to digest and can cause gastrointestinal discomfort.

Avoid eating heavy foods and meals within four or five hours of bedtime. If you must eat close to bedtime, opt for a small snack that promotes sleep. See, “8 Healthy Bedtime Snacks that Actually Improve Your Sleep.”

If you have difficulty falling asleep several nights a week, for a couple of months, then you could be suffering from a sleep disorder such as insomnia.  Schedule a sleep consultation with Valley Sleep Center today. Our trusted sleep professionals can help you get your sleep back on track. Call us at 480-830-3900 or schedule an appointment online.


  1. Rachel Leproult (2001), Transition from Dim to Bright Light in the Morning Induces an Immediate Elevation of Cortisol Levels, The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, Volume 86, Issue 1
  2. Martin Reed, Insomnia Coach (2015), What You Need to Know About Body Temperature and Sleep, Health Central
  3. The National Sleep Foundation, The Ideal Temperature for Sleep, Sleep.org
  4. Xiaoying Xu (2018), Association of Melatonin Production with Seasonal Changes, Low Temperature, and Immuno-Responses in Hamsters, US National Library of Medicine National Institute of Health