I don’t know what’s worse about winter: the cold or the darkness. One thing I do know is that the winter months make keeping a healthy sleep schedule — and waking up in the early morning to train — harder than it should be.
That’s partly because of the seemingly constant darkness, and partly because of the lack of motivation to perform physical activity stemming from, well, not wanting to go outside when it’s 35 degrees and raining.
Still, regardless of the season, you should be getting seven to nine hours of healthy sleep per night on a fairly regular schedule so that you can recover properly and continue to perform at your best. Here’s how to keep up a healthy sleep schedule, even in the winter.
How to Maintain Healthy Sleep Habits in the Winter
1. Keep Your Alarm Away From the Bed
Using an alarm clock is the most concrete way to make sure that you wake up on time. The problem is, they’re not always good at keeping you awake, or actually getting you out of bed. The solution is to make yourself get out of bed to deal with your alarm clock in the first place.
Instead of keeping your alarm clock on your nightstand, place it on the opposite side of your bedroom. This will force you to get out of bed to turn it off, ensuring that you come at least somewhat close to fully awake. And while you could go back to bed at that point, the momentum from getting out of bed will make it easier to keep going.
2. Use a Blue Light Device in the Morning
The brain uses sky-blue light as a signal that it’s daytime, and therefore time to wake up. Accordingly, blue light almost entirely suppresses melatonin production in the brain.
That makes blue light unhealthy at night, but highly desirable in the morning. In fact, you’d ideally want to start being exposed to blue light a little while before you plan to wake up.
Blue light-emitting devices such as the Philips goLITE emit sky-blue light, and can act effectively as light-based alarm clocks. By placing one on your nightstand aimed at your face and programming it to turn on a half hour before your alarm clock goes off, you can start preparing your brain to wake up by suppressing melatonin production in the last half hour of your sleep.
Note that while many of these devices can also act as regular alarm clocks, it’s better to use a separate alarm clock — most likely your phone — since you need the blue light device to be close to you.
You can also use a blue light device during the first two hours after waking to further speed the process of waking up your brain. Just place it a couple feet from you on your desk or kitchen table, aimed at your face at a 45-degree angle.
3. Wear Blue-Blocker Glasses at Night
Just as you want to be exposed to blue light in the morning, you’d be better off keeping it out of your eyes at night. Many devices can be programmed to redden their screens in the evening, but the lights in your home also include some blue light. (Remember, white light consists of all colors of light combined.)
One simple solution is to use orange or amber-tinted glasses. Known as blue-blocker glasses, these glasses filter out the blue wavelengths of light, making everything look darker and kind of red. Wearing them for the last two hours before you go to bed will ensure that your brain produces enough melatonin to make you get healthy. sleep on schedule.
4. Watch the Caffeine
The prolonged darkness of the winter months tempts many people into using caffeine to stay awake. But you undoubtedly know that too much caffeine too late in the day can impair sleep. What most people don’t understand, however, is just how easily this happens.
Even 100 milligrams of caffeine consumed first thing in the morning starts to have a measurable impact on healthy sleep later that night. (Not a huge impact at that level, granted.) But more caffeine, or caffeine later in the day, will disrupt your sleep even more.
Now, that doesn’t mean you need to abstain from caffeine. It does mean, however, that you should limit yourself to one cup of coffee first thing in the morning. If you need a pick-me-up later in the day, try using a blue light device or simply standing up for a while.
5. Stay Active During the Day
Tiring yourself out will help you sleep. This can mean working out, but simply walking a bit more is surprisingly helpful.
Studies show that walking improves healthy sleep quality and duration. Only one hour a day of walking is needed to see a substantial improvement.
Related: Want Better Sleep? Go for a Run.
Of course, it’s winter, and for many people (not Spartans, of course) that means that the weather isn’t exactly conducive to walking. Other alternatives include working out at home or in a gym, or simply standing more throughout the day — perhaps by using a standing desk. And if you're a true Spartan, you'll suit up and head out for a winter run or traipse through snow-covered streets in your snow boots to burn some extra calories.