Here’s why American adults sleep more in the winter

Feb 8, 2024, 12:07 PM

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SALT LAKE COUNTY, Utah — Did you know that 34% of US adults sleep more in the winter?

“It’s pretty typical for people to sleep more in the winter than in the summer,” said Dr. Kevin Walker, Medical Director of the Intermountain Health Sleep Disorders Center. “There are a few things that impact that including reduced number of daylight hours and the temperature.”

One of the things that regulates our sleep is our circadian system.

“Our body has a built-in circadian clock,” Walker explained. “It regulates a lot of things, but one of the main things is our sleep schedule. That clock is strongly influenced by some external factors, the strongest being light. In the winter, when it gets dark earlier, that’s the signal for our brain to start to release a little bit of melatonin for us to start to wind down to go to sleep.”

So, when the sun goes down earlier, our brain releases melatonin earlier. What about the cold? Does that affect our sleep?

“Our bodies like cooler temperatures to sleep,” Walker said. “If you think of a cave, it’s dark and quiet and cool. That’s the best setup for sleep. Our internal body temperature decreases at night when we’re sleeping and hits its lowest point a couple of hours before we wake up.”

Do we need more sleep in winter?

The data shows we do sleep more in winter, affected by both dark and cold, but do we need more sleep in the cold months?

“I don’t know of any data that we necessarily need more sleep in the winter than in the summer,” Walker explained. “I think it’s more we just naturally sleep more and will sleep more in the winter because of more dark and cooler temperatures.”

The length and quality of our sleep varies from individual to individual. The cold may help your spouse sleep deeper and longer while you’re still struggling with insomnia.

“Individuals can have different responses to circadian cues like light, temperature and social activities,” Walker said. “In general, we all have a similar response, but there is individual variation.”

Should we reach for sleep aids?

Walker told KSL NewsRadio that insomnia has become more prevalent.

“We certainly saw a spike when the COVID-19 epidemic was at its peak,” Walker said. “A lot more stress, anxiety, worry, depression levels all increased through that. People weren’t in their regular routine. Our bodies really like routine and habit. When we get out of that — not going outside as much, not going into to work, less structure — that really affects people’s sleep.”

We tend to reach for a pill. Can’t fall asleep? Take something. Spouse having trouble sleeping? Here’s a pill.

“I’m an advocate of less medication,” Walker said. “I think our body is well designed to sleep at night, and when we’re not sleeping well, a lot of times there are some of these factors that are inhibiting that. We can address those to help with sleep as opposed to relying on medication.”

If you feel frequently tired, always needing more sleep, that is quite common in our society. Walker says most people don’t sleep enough.

“We are probably sleep-deprived as a society and don’t prioritize sleep like we should,” he said. “So, it’s great in the winter if we’re getting a little more sleep. We’re probably getting closer to what we really need than during the summer hours.”

Amanda Dickson is the co-host of Utah’s Morning News and A Woman’s View on KSL NewsRadio. Follow her on Facebook and Instagram. 

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Here’s why American adults sleep more in the winter