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Sleep in Winter

The winter season can influence sleep patterns and overall sleep quality. Factors such as decreased sunlight exposure, changes in temperature, and disruptions to daily routines can affect sleep-wake cycles. Reduced sunlight exposure during winter months can impact the regulation of melatonin, a hormone that promotes sleep [3]. These changes in the circadian rhythm can lead to difficulties falling asleep or excessive sleepiness. Sleep is essential for our physical, emotional, and cognitive health. We all know how important sleep is. Without it, we feel slow, sluggish, and unproductive. On the contrary, a restful night of sleep leaves us feeling refreshed and energised.
Occupational Therapy (OT) plays a valuable role in addressing sleep problems and seasonal changes by employing various interventions and strategies to improve sleep quality and overall well-being. Here is a brief explanation of the role of Occupational Therapy in addressing sleep and the ways in which winter can impact sleep:

  1. Increased REM Sleep: Research suggests that people may experience more REM (rapid eye movement) sleep during the winter months [1]. REM sleep is a crucial stage of the sleep cycle associated with dreaming, memory consolidation, mood regulation, and immune function. While further studies are needed to confirm these findings in the general population, it indicates a potential increase in REM sleep during winter.
  2. Light Exposure: Winter days are shorter, resulting in reduced exposure to natural light. The decrease in sunlight can disrupt the body’s internal clock, also known as the circadian rhythm, which regulates sleep-wake cycles. This disruption can lead to difficulties in falling asleep and waking up, as well as potential mood changes and seasonal affective disorder (SAD) [2].
  3. Temperature and Comfort: Colder temperatures during winter can affect sleep quality. Individuals may have difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep if they feel too cold. Maintaining a comfortable sleep environment, such as using warm bedding and adjusting room temperature, can promote better sleep during winter [3].
  4. Sleep Disorders: Winter can exacerbate certain sleep disorders. For example, individuals with insomnia may find it harder to fall asleep or experience more night time awakenings due to discomfort caused by colder temperatures or changes in light exposure [3]. Additionally, individuals with respiratory conditions like sleep apnoea may experience worsened symptoms due to increased respiratory issues associated with winter illnesses like the common cold and flu [3].

To promote better sleep during winter, individuals can take several steps:

  1. Sleep Routine: Establishing a consistent sleep schedule, even during winter weekends or holidays, can help regulate the body’s internal clock and promote better sleep [3].
  2. Light Exposure: Seek exposure to natural light during the day, especially in the morning, to help regulate the circadian rhythm. This can include spending time outdoors, opening curtains to let in sunlight, or using light therapy devices [2].
  3. Sleep Environment: Create a sleep-friendly environment by ensuring the bedroom is cool, dark, and quiet. Using appropriate bedding and adjusting room temperature to a comfortable level can also contribute to better sleep quality [3].
  4. Healthy Habits: Practicing good sleep hygiene, such as avoiding stimulants close to bedtime, engaging in relaxing activities before sleep, and establishing a bedtime routine, can support better sleep during winter and throughout the year [3].

Coming later in 2023, Lifeworks will be running a group program for people with chronic health conditions who are experiencing sleep difficulties. More information and details will be provided in the coming months.

Here are some resources and links for both clinicians and people with sleep difficulties.

  • The Sleep Health Foundation has a number of informative fact sheets with links to additional resources and is an excellent starting point.

For clinicians:

Read:

  • Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker

Watch: Netflix’s Headspace: Guide to Sleep

It’s important to note that individual experiences may vary, and if sleep difficulties persist or significantly impact daily functioning, it is advisable to consult with a healthcare professional for further evaluation and guidance.

If you would like to make a referral, please contact our friendly admin team on (08) 7082 0622 or at [email protected] between 9am to 5pm Monday to Friday. Please visit our website to learn more about what we offer at Lifeworks OT and to make a referral. https://lifeworksot.com.au

Zeta Orrman is an Occupational Therapist at Lifeworks OT. With a keen interest in mental health, chronic pain, and the role of sleep in overall wellbeing, Zeta combines her professional knowledge and personal passion to help individuals navigate their daily occupations and lead meaningful lives. When she's not working, Zeta can be found surfing, travelling, flying aeroplanes, or volunteering at the Perth Astronomical Observatory.

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