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If you feel extra tired when the weather starts to change, there's a scientific explanation. According to sleep expert and author of The Power of When, Dr. Michael Breus, the changing seasons can affect our sleep. How?
"During certain seasons we get more sunlight or less sunlight or it's warmer or it's colder. And it turns out that this has a dramatic effect on our sleep. The reason is, our core body temperature cycle and our sleep cycle are almost the same — they actually follow one another," Dr. Breus says.
The main factors in getting a good night's sleep are light and temperature. "At a certain point at night, around 11:30 or 12 o'clock, our core body temperature drops pretty dramatically. That's a signal to our brain to release melatonin," the sleep doc explains. "Light actually prevents melatonin from being released, so we don't want light at night. We want light in the morning. And we want it to stay nice and cool in the evening."
"So, anything that makes us cold is actually good for our sleep, anything that makes us warm is not good for sleep," according to Dr. Breus.
While you can't change the weather outside, there are some products Dr. Breus recommends that could help you get a better night's sleep, no matter the season. Check out all of his picks — and learn how they help target specific seasonal sleep issues — below.
SLEEP BETTER DURING THE WINTER
Your sleep needs don't necessarily change from season to season, but the lack of sunlight during the winter can make you feel more tired. Even with an increased desire to sleep, however, it’s important to stick to your normal, consistent sleep schedule. Getting plenty of light exposure during daylight hours can help. Sunlight is ideal, but you can also supplement natural light exposure with light therapy, which mimics outdoor light.
Dr. Breus says the Journi light therapy device is one of his favorite ones. "I actually keep one of these in my suitcase because I travel internationally and so I use this to help me out when I'm getting up at crazy hours," he says. "If you did this for 15 minutes in the morning — and you don't have to put it right in front of your eyes — you could be eating breakfast, getting ready in the morning, whatever you want. It turns off melatonin in the morning and gets rid of that brain fog."
SLEEP BETTER DURING THE SPRING
Unfortunately for many people, spring means seasonal allergies. Allergy symptoms can keep you awake, and some medications targeted at relieving symptoms can leave you feeling drowsy. So, what should you do?
The first step, of course, is talking to your doctor to figure out exactly what you may be allergic to. If you know your trigger, you might be able to remedy it and alleviate the symptoms that are making it difficult to get a good night's rest. And keep in mind that you can develop allergies later in life. Just because you didn't start out allergic to animals doesn't mean you're not allergic to your cat or dog, Dr. Breus points out.
The next step is to look for ways to remove allergens.
We all need much better air. Air quality turns out to be a big factor with sleep," Dr. Breus says.
Curtains are dust magnets, according to the sleep doc. He suggests installing blackout shades, which don't collect dust (or at the very least, dusting your curtains more often!).
Look for hypoallergenic encasements for your pillows and mattress so that whatever's inside can't get out.
A little squirt of saline inside the nostril before bed can help irrigate the nasal cavity and clean out your sinuses, Dr. Breus says.
SLEEP BETTER DURING THE SUMMER
Summer heat and humidity can keep you up at night. Remember, our bodies are wired to lower core body temperature as part of moving toward sleep, Dr. Breus says.
He recommends a product called chiliPAD, which helps with this very issue. "This actually has a tube that runs inside it and it runs either cold water or warm water, so you can use it in the wintertime to warm you up, you can use it in the summertime to cool you down," he explains.
If you want a similar solution but you're on a budget, you can freeze plastic water bottles and put them inside tube socks, then place them next to your sides or by your pillow (nearby but not actually touching you) to help cool you down, the sleep doc says.
SLEEP BETTER DURING THE FALL
"We know number one, you should never go to bed hungry, because that will absolutely keep you awake. But you also shouldn't go to bed completely full," Dr. Breus says. "We know that temperature changes something called leptin and ghrelin." Ghrelin is the hormone that makes you want to eat, while leptin is the hormone that makes you want to stop, he explains. "It turns out you have a lot of ghrelin and not a lot of leptin, especially during the fall season."
About 30 minutes before bed, you can have a 200- to 250-calorie snack that can help with sleep. Aim for a mixture of complex carbohydrates and protein, and limit the sugar, the sleep doc suggests.
"This is a particular ice cream from a company I work with called Nightfood," Dr. Breus says. "It tastes like ice cream, but in fact, the profile is one so that it's not a tremendous amount of sugar, not a tremendous amount of carbohydrates. We've got some enzymes in there that are very positive for sleep." *Dr. Michael Breus is a paid spokesperson for Nightfood.
You can also try a small bowl of oatmeal with non-dairy milk (like coconut or almond milk) and tart cherries. "Both oatmeal and tart cherries have got a lot of melatonin in them," Dr. Breus says.