The weather and the time of the year can play a significant role in the quality of your sleep. Most people will have experienced a fairly unpleasant time trying to fall asleep on a hot or humid night.
Indeed, a survey in the Washington Post reported that 80% of respondents prefer sleeping in cooler conditions.
Yet it is not just temperature which affects our sleeping patterns. Changes to barometric pressure as well as seasonal changes in climatic conditions can influence how easily we fall asleep and stay asleep.
For those with a disorder such as sleep apnea, finding the optimal sleeping environment is important in helping treat the condition.
How Weather Changes Influence Sleep
Experts say the optimal bedroom temperature for sleeping is between 60 to 67 degrees Fahrenheit. An environment which promotes sleeping is key for people with sleep apnea.
One study reported people with this condition finding the optimal temperature for the bedroom being slightly lower at 61 degrees Fahrenheit.
Temperatures are key because the temperature of our bodies fluctuates through the day, and this impacts on our sleep/wake cycle. Our body temperature naturally starts to drop when we fall asleep, reaching its lowest point around 5am.
Hot weather can affect this natural drop in body temperature and lead to problems sleeping.
While most people will find night times easier in cooler weather, when it is very cold it can be tempting to turn up the heating. However, whacking up the heat in your bedroom can have the same impact as sleeping on a hot and humid night.
By pushing up the temperatures in the bedroom your body may not cool as it should and lead to sleeping difficulties.
The body cools down at night by increasing blood flow to the body’s extremities, thereby sending heat away from the core.
Temperature can also affect the time you spend in the different stages of the sleeping process. For example, excessive heat can reduce REM sleep, which could affect the body’s ability to recover as well as negatively affect the immune system.
What About Seasonal Influences?
In the Northern Hemisphere, a big impact from the changes in seasons is the reduction in hours of sunlight. The hormone melatonin plays a significant role in the sleep/wake cycle, with the body’s drop in temperature tied to its release.
This increase in melatonin is triggered by the fall of darkness, telling us it is time to think about sleeping.
However, darker nights due to seasonal changes means the earlier release of melatonin in to the body. This can make people feel more tired than usual earlier or later in the day due to the alteration of the influences on the body’s sleep/wake cycle.
Another hormone affected by changes to daylight hours is serotonin, one which could be the reason why people feel more depressed and tired during the winter.
Of course, for many people seasonal changes mean allergies. Tree and grass pollen are two of the major allergens that result in people having sleeping difficulties.
Sneezing, runny nose and itchy eyes are just a sample of the reactions caused by allergies which can make it difficult to fall asleep. For someone with a disorder like sleep apnea, allergies can hamper their treatment course by preventing them sleeping.
Colds and viruses are also more prevalent in colder seasons. Similar to allergies, the symptoms of a cold or a flu virus such as blocked sinuses, sore throat and a cough will make it much harder to get a good night’s rest.
Some people may even find slight alterations in barometric pressure from seasonal weather can lead to sleep-busting migraines.
Ways to Ensure Better Sleep During These Changes
The following are a number of ways to try and ensure a sleeping environment which helps optimize the chance of a good night’s rest when weather or seasonal changes threaten to disrupt your chances of falling asleep.
- Keep your bedroom cool, ideally between 60 and 67 degrees Fahrenheit. Set your thermostat appropriately or use a fan or air conditioning on warmer nights.
- Optimize the bedroom for sleeping, ensuring it is dark, quiet and devoid of screens which emit blue light.
- Maintain a night time routine, including going to bed and waking up at the same time each day.
- Open the window for ventilation, although this may not be so appropriate during allergy season, as it can allow pollen in to the house.
- Use a mattress or bed sheets designed for temperature regulation
- Close the blinds or curtains during the day to reduce the heat building up in the bedroom
For those with sleep apnea, consistent nights of sleep reduce or eliminate symptoms, including snoring. By mitigating the effects of weather and seasonal changes, you can reduce the risk of sleeping problems that could see the return of your symptoms.