7 Winter Sleep Hacks

7 Winter Sleep Hacks

Photo by Kinga Cichewicz on Unsplash

It’s dark in the morning. My body is in hibernation mode. With this brief respite as my new office is remodeled, I’ve enjoyed sleeping in. Decadent. Warm. Loving. Just me and my body… and maybe a cat or two.

Enjoying the dawn at 7 am. I can feel rested. As the days grow longer, natural sleep cycles grow shorter. The body follows the sun. The ganglion receptors in the retinae (in the back of the eyes) are sensitive to light. When they get it during the day, melatonin is made and secreted at night for a restful and rejuvenating sleep. The immune system rejuvenates during sleep and this is why quality and quantity of rest is so important. The body and the brain clear out toxins and waste and repair DNA during sleep. Humans are meant to spend ⅓ of their life sleeping. Yet, one in three people are chronically sleep deprived.

There are various reasons why. It is estimated that one in four people ages 30-70 have obstructive sleep apnea. (80% of cases are thought to be undiagnosed.) The impact this makes on the sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight) is huge. The results are elevated circulating cortisol levels which in turn increases the rate of obesity, metabolic syndrome, heart disease and Type 2 Diabetes. When the body gets only 4 hours of sleep for 4 days it metabolically ages 10 to 20 years!

Another interesting phenomenon is called Behaviorally Induced Insufficient Sleep Syndrome (BIISS). This results when type A personalities view sleep as a luxury for which they don’t have time. Staying up to get more work done does not pay off in the long run.

Sleep hacks to get restful, restorative sleep

How can this change? Here are some easy sleep hacks that will help you get the restful shut-eye that will get anyone off to a healthier life. And it’s okay to sleep in from time to time.

  1. Increase daytime sun exposure. Get outside during the day. Feed the eyes on light. 30-45 minutes daily of direct sun exposure without sunglasses or a visor will give the body what it needs to make adequate melatonin.
  2. Avoid late night snacking. Closing the kitchen 3 hours before bedtime will help the body get ready for sleep. Food will be digested when we get horizontal and the body can focus on repair.
  3. Assure adequate fluid intake throughout the day. The body needs adequate fluid to cool itself before sleep. Dehydration alters this process. Drink fluids in the afternoon to avoid a middle-of-the-night trip to the toilet. A good calculation for water intake is use your weight in pounds divided in half. This number is the recommended daily intake of water in ounces.
  4. Dim lights one hour before bed. Avoid TV’s and computers. Keep the alarm clock out of sight or dim the screen. The f.lux app is very helpful if turning off the computer isn’t an option.
  5. Cool the bedroom before sleep. As a function of falling asleep the body cools it’s core (mentioned above). The suggested bedroom temperature for optimal sleep is between 60-67 degrees Fahrenheit.
  6. Keep daytime naps less than 30 minutes. If I could take a nap every day, I would. They are a fantastic way to calm down and get a boost in the middle of the day. Keeping naps short will keep the circadian rhythms strong and not disrupt night time rest.
  7. If sleep apnea is suspected, see a doctor for a sleep study. Weight loss can help tremendously with sleep apnea as can exercise, so ask your doctor about safe weight loss programs or better yet, seek out a Functional Medicine doctor who works with a Registered Dietitian.


Beth Claxton, M.D.
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Beth Claxton, M.D. is a functional medicine physician and board-certified gynecologist based in Flagstaff, Arizona. She believes there are everyday habits that lead to a life where you can be stronger, thinner, more calm, and pain-free.