How to Wake Up Without Sunlight In Winter

Here’s a few tips to keep your sleep schedule intact, even when it’s dark and cold outside. 

Seems straightforward, doesn’t it? Waking up in winter? You just… do it, right? Not always.

In the next few months, most of the world will make the switch from Daylight Savings Time (DST) to Standard Time when we “fall back,” regaining that hour we lost in March. When we “fall back” on the first Sunday in November, the wake-up time for many people working day-shift jobs comes around well before sunrise, when it’s still dark. You now have to fight a natural rhythm that’s trying to tell you to get more sleep – and that’s a hard message to resist, especially if it’s cold outside. You’re already warm and snuggly in bed, it’s cold in your bedroom, and you just deeply, deeply don’t want to go anywhere except back to dreamland. 

Studies have shown that the switch between DST and Standard Time has an effect on our bodies, especially in March. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine found that “moving into or out of DST has adverse effects on sleep/wake patterns that last about 5-7 days, and… the effects of changing to DST are probably most notable for those who enter the change with insufficient sleep.”

Sleep routines are easy to disrupt, especially if the disruption can last up to 5-7 days! So how do you protect your ability to wake up when it’s dark? 

  1. Find a way to get some light! Natural light is one of the main things that helps wake your body up; your circadian rhythm, your body’s internal clock, depends on light to activate. Sunlight-simulating alarm clocks and lamps are on the market that can be programmed for any wake-up time to help combat the urge to fall asleep because it’s dark. 
  2. Make sure your bedtime routine is rock-solid. The human body loves routines, so make sure that, in advance of the time switch, you keep as many routines intact as possible. If you don’t have much of a routine, try to build one: ensure that you’re allowing for at least seven hours of sleep, do something that doesn’t involve electronics to wind down (such as reading a book, meditation, or cuddling a partner), take a warm shower, have a glass of sleepytime tea, etc. Over the six weeks from now until the time change, you have plenty of time to build good sleep hygiene that will last beyond DST and Standard Time!
  3. Heat it up! If your bedroom is freezing in the mornings and the blankets are a little too snuggly, consider heating up your bedroom! That makes the transition from sleep to waking a little easier, since it’s easier to fall asleep when you’re cold. Most modern heaters can be programmed to turn on or off at a certain time or to stay on for just a few hours. Just make sure the heater is positioned well away from any flammable materials, like curtains, clothes, or even your bed sheets. 
  4. Don’t be afraid to try something unconventional! Carolyn Purnell in an article for Apartment Therapy had some quirky ideas for making herself get up around this time. Ideas from drinking water before bed (forcing her to get up to go to the bathroom, then being unable to get as comfortable), and not allowing herself to reason with herself (those internal please for “five more minutes” or “two more minutes” so many of us are susceptible to), to putting the alarm clock across the room helped her maintain her waking schedule.

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