How Does the Winter Affect Your Body’s Circadian Rhythm?

As the days grow shorter and the weather gets colder, we feel the impact of the winter on our bodies in different ways.

One excellent example of this is your circadian rhythm, which developed over millennia to link our physiological cycles with the sun’s rising and setting each day.

So how is this influenced by long, dark nights for months on end? 

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Let’s look a little closer to give you answers and help you cope with any unwanted side effects of the winter.

Staying active is important

The main point to note is that humans don’t follow the same path as other animals over winter, so rather than embracing hibernation, we stick to our normal routines of wakefulness during daylight hours, followed by sleep at night.

Unfortunately, conditions like depression are exacerbated by winter’s briefer windows of daylight, which can leave some people feeling like they want to stay in bed or remain snuggled on the sofa under a blanket.

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This actually fights against our circadian rhythm, which wants us to be up and active year-round. So if you have trouble sleeping in the winter, it could be because you’re spending too much time in a sedentary manner.

Regular moving is a useful antidote to this and should burn up energy so that you can get a better quality of rest overnight.

staying active
Photo by Julia Larson

Lighting is influential

While the winter won’t disrupt our circadian rhythm directly, our own habits at this time will leave their mark.

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Blue light emitted by phone screens, other electronics, and certain varieties of LED bulbs, make it harder for us to settle down to snooze. So if you’re looking for the best-LED color for sleep, an a19 incandescent light bulb will give you what you need.

Of course, it’s not enough to just snap up the best LED color for sleep to use in your bedside lamp. You also need to change your habits so that you aren’t glued to your phone just before bedtime.

lighting is influential in sleep
Photo by Ketut Subiyanto

Temperature has a part to play

Another thing to consider in the colder months of the year is how to manage temperatures inside your house. The temperature can mess with your natural rhythms more than you might think.

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Aside from the skin drying qualities of overly warm rooms, you need to be aware that it’s possible for the temperature to go too far in the other direction.

You’re looking for a goldilocks temperature. It usually lies anywhere from 63 degrees to 72 degrees in order to remain cozy without feeling lethargic. Humidity is also relevant here. The air, both indoors and outside, isn’t as humid. This contributes to all sorts of issues, from flakiness to nasal issues and beyond. Using a good humidifier in the house is a solution, and moisturizing your skin regularly will also help.

temperature is important
Photo by Mikhail Nilov

A physician can diagnose your specific issues

Most importantly, if you find that the winter really plays havoc with your body and messes with your circadian rhythm in unpredictable ways, don’t just try your own remedies and solutions. Seek the advice of a medical professional.

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Doctors will give you guidance on all sorts of dilemmas. It may be from physical maladies like sleep apnea to mental health maladies like depression.

The bottom line

There’s no one universal bodily response to wintry weather; some people are set up for it, and others will suffer much more significantly. The same is true of all the seasons. So try to tailor your coping techniques according to what works for you.

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