Do You Need More Sleep in Winter?

By Allison Ford, DivineCaroline

During this time of year, itís hard to not be jealous of the various squirrels, hedgehogs, possums, chipmunks, bats, skunks, lemurs, and other small mammals that lower their body temperatures and their metabolisms for the winter, napping in their burrows until the snow goes away. Bears donít exactly hibernate, but they do spend winters in their dens, napping and caring for newborn cubs. Even some species of reptiles and amphibians hibernate, remaining in a sluggish torpor throughout the winter when thereís not enough heat to raise their body temperatures.

Humans, of course, do not hibernate, but it can feel much more difficult to get out of bed on a chilly winter morning than it does in the height of summer. Some people take this as a welcome sign that being awake during the winter is an affront to nature. Or at the very least, they assume that humans need more sleep during winter. Is that true?

The Straight Talk
We donít exactly need more sleep during the wintertime, but due to factors beyond our control, we definitely want it.

Humansí sleep and wake cycles are regulated by light. Light suppresses the production of melatonin by the brainís pineal gland. As daylight fades, the pineal gland produces more melatonin, which causes us to feel sleepy. In the morning, the gland is instructed to stop producing the hormone, which aids in waking up. We feel sleepier in the winter because thereís less daylight, hence more melatonin. We wake up when itís still dark outside, before the pineal gland has been instructed to shut down, and it starts up again long before weíre actually ready to go to bed. That adds up to many lethargic mornings and evenings.

Another dirty trick that makes us want more sleep is that wintertime affords us with prime sleeping conditions. Itís dark outside and the house is cool and stillóa perfect recipe for a good nightís sleep. No wonder so many people have trouble leaving bed on a January morning.

Although many people end up waking later and retiring earlier during the cold, dark months, thereís no real biological need for getting extra sleep during the winter. Thereís more variation in sleep needs among individuals than there is in a single individual between seasons. That is, some people naturally need more sleep than others need in order to function optimally, and that number doesnít change with the seasons.

Even though our body clock is triggered by light and dark, our sleep needs donít correspond exactly with the length of the days. Think about it: in Scandinavian countries where there may be only a few hours of light per day in the winter, people donít suddenly need eighteen or twenty hours of sleep per night. Likewise, in the summer when there are only a few hours of darkness, people arenít suddenly able to get by on only two or three hours.

The imbalance of light and dark is a prime culprit in the development of seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a wintertime malaise characterized by fatigue, depression, and weight gain. Sound familiar? Itís no coincidence that treatment for SAD commonly includes light therapy to reset and regulate the bodyís circadian rhythms.

The Takeaway
If youíre already getting your optimum amount of sleep, you donít need extra just because itís winter. But if you regularly donít get enough, feel free to fight the freeze by staying snug in your bed as long as possible.

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Joe R.
Joe R.3 years ago


Melanie Clark
Melanie Clark4 years ago

I live in Florida, and I can never sleep even in the winter. It's just not possible, but I know when I lived in Ohio I never wanted to get up. It's much better just to stay under the covers than to go outside in the freezing cold.

Jeanette B.
Jen B.4 years ago

Winter is the perfect time to hibernate and catch up on rest =)

Hester Goedhart
Eternal Gardener4 years ago


Sonny Honrado
Sonny Honrado4 years ago

I try to have a regular sleeping time and sleep for about 7 hours.

Victoria S.
Victoria S.4 years ago

I have the worst time getting up in the morning at the moment, don't seem to be able to get up before the sun rises. Though is the summer I'll wake up a 5am with no trouble :-S

Maria S.
Maria S.4 years ago

I belive also that boddy ache is more in the winter and make some sleep more !

Raluca Anghel
Raluca Anghel4 years ago

so good to stay in bed every morning in winter...

Bente S.
Bente S.4 years ago

Thank you.

Lika S.
Lika S.4 years ago

That explains a lot. Though for me, I can't tolerate being in bed that long because it kills my back. Now add in the fact that I can't sleep more than 4-6 hours w/o my back screaming at me, and now the weather is causing more melatonin.