5 Tips to Help you Sleep Better this Winter

I typically consider myself a pretty positive person. However, like many other North Dakotans, I am currently struggling.   After months of frigid temperatures and lack of sunshine, the “winter blahs” have officially set in, and its impacting more than just my mood.  Sleep problems can often show up at this time of the year.  But don’t worry.  I’ve got your back.  As a sleep consultant, occupational therapist, and Reiki practitioner I have plenty of tips and tricks to share to get our sleep back on track.

Here are a few simple sleep tips for the winter season along with some of my favorite products.

Set a sleep schedule

Regular bedtime / wake time.

Our circadian rhythm (the internal 24-hour clock that regulates our bodily functions) thrives when we have a consistent schedule.  Try to keep your bedtime and morning wake time within a 30-minute window everyday so your body does not get confused with irregular schedules.

Exposure to sunlight helps keep you awake

Light Exposure

Light exposure is the number one thing that regulates our sleep/wake cycle.  When exposed to lights (especially direct sunlight) a cascade of hormones and chemical messengers (cortisol & serotonin) flood our body, triggering us to be awake and alert.  On the other hand, darkness triggers the release of melatonin, our sleepy hormone.   Timing the amount and type of light exposure you get during the day can be very beneficial to your sleep.

Upon waking, expose yourself to bright light within the first 10 minutes of waking.  This can be quite tricky in the winter months when the sun doesn’t rise until well after our wake times.  In these dark months, I get a little help from the following products. First, I recommend using a dawn simulating alarm clock (HATCH RESTORE, HOMELABS ).  These amazing clocks gently illuminate the room, simulating a sunrise.  The change in light level helps trigger the release of cortisol / serotonin.

Sometimes after waking, use a light therapy box (Verilux).  Maybe while enjoying breakfast, getting ready in the bathroom, or when checking your emails once you are at the office.   The box should be about 24 inches from your face.  Don’t look directly into the light. Rather, have it on while you are completing another task.  Try to use it for 20-30 minutes.

Noon:  Nothing compares to the direct exposure you get from the sun, so anytime you can get outside for some direct sunlight, without risking frostbite, do so! And skip the sunglasses.  A quick walk around the block at lunch can really help your serotonin production.  Most of us know that serotonin is one of the“feel-good” neurotransmitters that boost our mood, but we often forget that it is also a building block needed for melatonin production.  Sunlight = Serotonin = Melatonin = Great Sleep!

At Night: 

After you have had a full day of proper sunlight exposure, it’s time to focus on decreasing the light exposure at night so melatonin can kick in and do its magic. It’s important to understand that the brightness and color of your light sources make a difference.  Red and yellow hues are more calming to the brain, whereas blue, green, and bright white lights are more stimulating and will trick your brain into thinking that it is high noon and suppresses melatonin.

  1. After dinner creates a “Happy Hour” effect by dimming the bright, LED, overhead lights. Try replacing lamps with blue light blocking light bulbs or even switching the color to a warm light rather than bright white.
  2. Limit screen time 2-3 hours before bed. Cutting out the blue light from TVs, computers, phones, and tablets will make a huge difference in your melatonin levels.  If you are unable to cut screens that close to bedtime, wear blue light-blocking glasses.  Please be aware of the difference between day vs night blue light-blocking glasses.  The orange lensed glasses block a higher percentage of blue light.  (SWANWICK)
Create a distraction free sleep sanctuary

Create a Sleep Sanctuary

Do you love your bedroom?  If your immediate answer is not YES, it’s time to give the space a refresh!  We spend 1/3 of our lives sleeping in this space, so it deserves your full effort.

  1. Dark: I can’t emphasize enough how important a dark sleep space is.  As we discussed previously, light exposure really impacts our body clock.  Make sure the bedroom is pitch black.  Even the tiniest amount of light can alter your melatonin levels.  Use black-out curtains and cover small lights on electrical equipment with black electrical tape.  It should be so dark that you can’t see your hand in front of your face.
  2. Cool: Our core body temperate decreases when we sleep.  A cooler bedroom (between 65-68 degrees) will help foster great sleep.  If you sleep cold, try putting socks on and adding extra layers of blankets.  Using a fan or air purifier can also improve the air temperature and quality.
  3. Quiet: Use a sound machine to help block environmental sounds (furnace, your partner’s breathing patterns, cars driving by, etc.). Use a consistent sound like white or brown noise over other sounds with changing patterns. Keep the noise machine on all night long and place it 6 feet away from the head of the bed.
  4. Clean: Make sure you are cleaning your bedroom and linens frequently. Dust, wash floors, and change linens on a weekly basis to avoid allergy issues. We shed far too many skin cells in our bed each night, and the dust mites that accumulate can cause inflammation in our airways.
  5. Limit Activity:  Your bed should be used for sleep and intimacy only. Avoid other activities in this space or you could run into the issue of “conditioned arousal”.  For example, if you consistently watch TV in bed your brain will automatically expect to be entertained, causing different neuroassociations to fire when you should be winding down for sleep.
Morning Workouts


Movement helps to build sleep pressure which we need to fall asleep quickly and maintain sleep. You also want to make sure you time your workouts in a way that will benefit your sleep.  There are several theories out there; however, I recommend an early morning workout (before 10 am) if possible. Getting the heart rate up at this time naturally helps our cortisol levels spike, which we want to happen during the day. However, if you only have time to work out in the evening, try to schedule it at least an hour and a half before bedtime so your core body temperature has time to come down.

Avoid drinking alcohol or coffee

Time your Caffeine and Alcohol Intake

Not to be a total buzz kill, but I feel it’s important that we discuss the impacts of caffeine and alcohol on our sleep.   The two are often used as band-aid fixes to give us energy during the day or help us drift off into dreamland at night.  \But in reality, they can both wreak havoc on our sleep if not timed properly.

Caffeine can be a lovely tool if used in moderation. Caffeine works by blocking our adenosine receptors.  Adenosine is the chemical that builds up in our brain making us feel sleepy. Caffeine can take up to 10 hours before it’s out of the system altogether which is why I recommend that you avoid all forms after lunch if possible.

Switching gears to alcohol. Nothing sounds more pleasant than a glass of cabernet on a cold blustery night. And many people feel that alcohol helps them fall asleep faster. However, we often confuse sleepiness with the actual ‘sedation’ caused by alcohol. The other problem with alcohol is that it drastically disrupts our REM sleep, leading us to wake up feeling unrefreshed. If you do consume any alcohol at night, try to aim for Happy Hour (3 hours before bed) and drink one glass of water per unit of alcohol to help flush out the toxins.

If you are still struggling with your sleep after implementing these tips please reach out.  After all, my mission is to help everyone achieve great sleep with a side of Zen vibes.


Product Websites: 

Hatch Restore Alarm Clock

Home Labs Alarm Clock

Light Therapy Box: Verilux

Blue Light Blocking Bulbs

Swanwick Blue Light Blocking Glasses

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