- Research suggests that people sleep more during colder months, which is reflected in aggregate Oura member data.
- Reasons may include colder temperatures and fewer daylight hours — both of which play a role in the release of melatonin, the sleep hormone, as well as your circadian rhythm.
- To feel more energized in the winter months, try using an alarm clock that mimics daylight, going outside in the morning, and getting regular exercise.
The winter months seem tailor-made for sleep — chilly temperatures, warm tea, cozy bedding. Turns out, we do sleep more in the winter months — according to both science and Oura member data.
Read on to find out how, exactly, sleep changes in the winter, and what you can do to feel more energized during the colder, darker months.
How Oura Members’ Sleep Changes in Winter
Anonymized Oura member data* revealed certain patterns in sleep and recovery biometrics as the seasons change.
- Sleep duration increases by 3%, or about 10 minutes, in the winter.
- Time spent in bed increases from slightly less than 8 hours to 8 hours and 15 minutes from summer to winter.
- Resting heart rate increases by 3% (about 1.5-1.8bpm) from summer to winter.
- HRV drops by about 8% in the winter — from an average of 45.7 ms in July to 42.5 ms in January.
Keep in mind: Your sleep needs don’t change during winter. Adults should aim to get between seven and nine hours of sleep a night, regardless of the season.
|Member Tip: Look at your long-term Trends in the Oura App to see how your own sleep habits change with the seasons.|
4 Reasons Why You Sleep More in the Winter
1. Early Sunsets = Earlier Release of Melatonin
In the winter, there are only about 9 hours of daylight, compared to 12 hours in the summer.
Melatonin, the hormone that signals to your body it’s time to sleep, is controlled by environmental light. When it’s dark outside, your brain triggers the release of melatonin — explaining why you might get tired earlier in the darker winter days. Your circadian rhythm, which controls your sleep-wake cycle, is also dependent on light exposure.
People also tend to get more REM sleep in winter, as reflected in Oura member data. According to research, REM sleep is particularly sensitive to light exposure — meaning that the less daylight there is, the more REM sleep you might get.
LEARN MORE: Everything You Need to Know About Melatonin
2. Less Vitamin D
Studies have shown that people have lower levels of vitamin D in the winter months. This is because you need sunlight to synthesize vitamin D – so less sunlight means less vitamin D. Low vitamin D levels can cause you to feel more tired and can reduce sleep quality, possibly resulting in an urge to sleep more.
3. Colder Temperatures
A cool, dark room is key for better sleep — and winter creates the perfect environment for this! When the temperature drops, it signals to your brain that it’s time for sleep, making it easier to fall asleep. This shows up in the form of a decrease in sleep latency for Oura members during the winter.
On the other hand, it can also make it harder to wake up in the morning. When your body’s core temperature is lower than usual, the feeling of sleepiness might persist. In one study, researchers found that the cold, dark conditions of winter inhibit the neurons in the brain that are responsible for wakefulness, particularly in the morning!
4. Winter Blues
Up to 20% of people are believed to be impacted by the “winter blues.” Seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a more severe type of the winter blues, affects around 10 million Americans. Both of these conditions refer to a feeling of sadness and lethargy that occurs during the winter, and common symptoms include fatigue and sleeping more than usual. In fact, one study found that people with SAD sleep for an additional 2.7 hours during winter.
How Oura Members’ Sleep Changes During the Holidays
When we looked at anonymized Oura member data, we found that:
- Members sleep 3% longer on holidays – but their Sleep Score is 2% lower.
- Members get about 5% less deep sleep on the days that they Tag “alcohol.”
- 7% more Oura members take naps the day after Thanksgiving compared to usual.
LEARN MORE: How Does the Oura Ring Track My Sleep?
Two possible explanations:
- The holidays are often accompanied by lots of food, stress, and socializing. While fun, this can also be draining physically. The day after a holiday can feel like a release of stress, resulting in more fatigue during the day. Plus, we’re often off of work, meaning we have more time to take advantage of an afternoon nap!
- We may get more sleep, but it’s lower quality. Travel, alcohol, and heavy meals can all have a negative impact on your sleep quality. Alcohol, in particular, has a clear impact on sleep.
|Member Tip: See how Oura helped Gemma R. give up alcohol after she saw a massive spike in her resting heart rate on vacation.|
How to Beat the Winter Blues and Feel More Energized
If you’re struggling with winter fatigue, try out some of these tips to stay energized in the day and sleep well at night.
- Track your habits: Oura members can Tag various sleep factors, like blackout curtains, blue light blockers, or a sunlight alarm. Then, you can analyze to see whether these variables improved your sleep.
- Use a sunlight alarm: Sunlight alarm clocks simulate a gradual sunrise, waking you up with a gentle and natural light, helping you start your day more alert and refreshed, even during the dark winter months.
- Get morning daylight: Ideally, go outside for about 10 minutes in the morning, sans sunglasses. This can help regulate your circadian rhythm and increase your alertness.
- Supplement with Vitamin D: Since reduced sunlight exposure can lead to lower vitamin D levels during winter, consider taking a vitamin D supplement. Consult with a healthcare professional to determine the appropriate dosage for your needs.
- Consider red light therapy: Red light therapy devices, such as light panels or lamps, emit low-level laser therapy that may help improve energy levels and combat SAD. These devices can be used in the morning or as part of your evening routine to support a healthier sleep-wake cycle.
- Make time for regular exercise: Even a short daily workout or a brisk walk outdoors can enhance your overall well-being and contribute to better sleep quality.
RELATED: Longer Days, Less Sleep?
*Data gathered from 48K unique primarily US-based Oura members from 2019 through 2022.