Why You Need More Sleep In Winter
Do you find it hard to leave the warm covers in winter time? Do you yearn to take curl up and take naps?
If you answered yes, it may be because we have more in common with bears, bats, groundhogs and other hibernating animals than we think. Animals hibernate to conserve energy and avoid having to scrounge to find food in bad weather. While humans can work long hours all year long, we still seem to have an inner clock attuned to the seasons.
Everyone has heard the phrase, “I need my beauty sleep.” Now we have proof: According to Swedish researchers at Osher Center for Integrative Medicine in Stockholm, sleep deprived people appear less healthy, less attractive and more tired compared with when they are well rested.
Study participants were photographed after a normal night's sleep (eight hours) and after sleep deprivation (31 hours of wakefulness after a night of reduced sleep). Then the photographs were presented in a randomized order and rated by untrained observers for perceived health, attractiveness and tiredness. Sleep deprived people were rated as less healthy and less attractive than after a normal night's sleep. Another reason to get your zzzzzssss.
The authors express their envy that these people can spend half a year removed from the worry and care suffered by their non-hibernating brethren. Of course, that’s not a realistic existence for even those of us who are retired, and certainly not for those of us caregiving for others. But there is information we can take away from their lifestyle.
When asked if it is normal for humans to require more sleep when days are short, Joseph Feuerstein, MD, Director of Integrative Medicine at Stamford Hospital in Connecticut, replied, “I believe as mammals we have a tendency to hibernate in winter.”
In fact, Dr. Feuerstein considers sleep such a vital human function that he does not recommend the use of alarm clocks. “The point is to wake up refreshed, so an alarm clock is artificially interrupting your sleep. If you don’t sleep enough you develop a sleep deficit that must be repaid over the next days. If it isn’t, you will get chronically sleep deprived and will not achieve any kind of optimal heath. There is actually a sleep syndrome called ‘Insufficient Sleep Syndrome’ that is seen commonly in our society.”
Many elderly people complain of poor sleep. According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), there are several possible factors for this:
According to Dr. Feuerstein, another common problem associated with aging is physiological: As people age they get less REM sleep every night and so sleep becomes more fractious.
REM sleep is important because it stimulates the brain regions used in learning. “This may be important for normal brain development during infancy, which would explain why infants spend much more time in REM sleep than adults,” write the authors of a paper on the NIH website.
And REM sleep has other important implications. For example, while rats normally live for two to three years, those deprived of REM sleep survive only about 5 weeks on average, and rats deprived of all sleep stages live only about 3 weeks, the NIH paper says.
The upshot of this is to make sure you get your sleep. “Mind-body techniques such as guided imagery, meditation, self- hypnosis are very useful for mild sleep disturbances,” advises Dr. Feuerstein.
Other helpful natural sleep-inducing techniques will be explored in a later article.