Adjust to the shorter days of fall and winter for better sleep

Q:  “Since the days have been getting shorter, I haven’t been sleeping well.  Same thing happened last year in the fall.  Why is this, and what can I do to help myself sleep better?”

A:  Many people experience some difficulty sleeping in the fall as the days begin to get noticeably shorter and nights longer.  The longer days we have gotten used to during summer are gone.  For some, these seasonal changes may disrupt the circadian rhythm that largely controls sleep.

If you also feel depressed during the shorter days of fall and winter, you could be susceptible to a condition known as seasonal affective disorder, or SAD.  But that’s a diagnosis you’d want a healthcare professional to make.

On the other hand, if this is really more of a transitory sleep issue, then there’s a few simple things you can do to help yourself adjust.

First, and perhaps most important, is to set and keep a consistent sleep schedule.  In particular, maintain a consistent wake-up time every day as much as possible, including weekends.  Your sleep system thrives on this sort of regularity.

Second, upon arising, immediately expose yourself to bright light.  Indirect sunlight, because of its natural full spectrum, is best.  But if the sun isn’t up yet, as is the case for many of us this time of year, most people do just fine with regular indoor lighting.  Just make sure the light is bright, not dim.

Third, try to get out in the sun for some exercise, if you can.  Exposure to at least a little direct sun helps strengthen your circadian rhythm, and exercise helps tire us out so we sleep better.  Hikes or walks outdoors are one great way to do this.  Just be careful of overexposure to the sun, though that is far less of a risk when the sun is lower in the sky.

Taking these simple steps has powerfully beneficial effects to help you sleep better.

The smart use of light has the profound effect of resetting your biological clock for a new day. Deliberately exposing yourself to bright light upon awakening is a potent method to regulate your 24-hour circadian rhythm regardless of when the sun rises and sets.

In addition, with exposure to bright light your brain begins tracking prior wakefulness.  After about 16 hours of nonstop wakefulness, a structure in the brain called the ventrolateral preoptic nucleus sends out a signal that it’s time to sleep, reinforcing the circadian rhythm.  This second system is known as the homeostatic sleep drive.

Getting the two systems — your circadian rhythm and sleep drive — in alignment and synchronized together is a very powerful and completely natural way to help strengthen your sleep system any time of year, but especially during the shorter days and longer nights of fall and winter.

For more information on this and other natural drug-free methods to help yourself sleep, or to ask a sleep question, please feel free to visit us at

Explore posts in the same categories: Health, Insomnia, sleep

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3 Comments on “Adjust to the shorter days of fall and winter for better sleep”

  1. wartica Says:

    Same here, the colder months are always harder for me to sleep in; that’s why I want to move to California soon:)

  2. […] If you are not doing it now, we suggest setting and keeping a consistent bed time and wake-up time.  Your sleep system thrives on this sort of consistency.  Wake-up time in particular is important because that’s how you synchronize your biological clock to your natural circadian rhythm. […]

  3. […] support sleep at night and activity during the day.  The two most important of these are the circadian rhythm and the homeostatic sleep drive.  These are the two metabolic processes that largely control […]

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