While winter in Australia isn’t as harsh as winter in many other countries around the world, it’s not as easy here in winter as some outsiders would like to think. Snowstorms will rarely stop traffic in Brisbane and schoolkids seldom get the chance to enjoy a snow day in Perth, but winter in Australia still has its fair share of problems.
In Sydney, average temperatures range from 8°C to 17°C in July*, our southern hemisphere’s mid-winter. This may compare quite favourably to Stockholm in Sweden, for example, which sees an average temperature range of -5°C to -1°C in its coldest month of January**, but that doesn’t necessarily make winter any easier to bear for Sydneysiders.
In fact, a 2015 study*** in medical journal The Lancet found that more people die from the cold in Australia than in Sweden, with the cold contributing to about 3.7% of deaths in Sweden, and 6.7% of deaths in Australia.
While our winters may be relatively mild, many Australians are just not equipped to deal with cold weather. Australian homes are usually better equipped to deal with the heat than the cold, meaning that in winter, badly insulated houses with drafts and poor heating systems don’t cope well even with those mild winter temperatures.
But, winter doesn’t just affect how cold we feel – it can also affect our health and the way we sleep. A lack of vitamin D from sunlight can affect serotonin levels, for example, which may provide a potential explanation for increased feelings of depression and fatigue, as well as overeating during winter months****.
A lack natural light can also suppress the release of melatonin – the hormone that tells the body it’s ready for sleep – which can result in problems sleeping, as internal circadian rhythms are affected. On top of that, finding the perfect temperature inside when the mercury outside starts to drop can influence the quality of sleep we enjoy.
TIPS FOR GOOD SLEEP IN WINTER
Getting good sleep all through the year is essential, which, among other things, means staying cool in summer and keeping warm in winter. When it comes to getting better sleep during those colder winter months, here are a few easy changes you can make.
Preparing your Home: Keeping the cold out of your house means ensuring your home is well-insulated, sealing up draughts around windows and doors, using curtains and rugs, and maintaining your heating system.
Preparing your Bedroom: Keeping warm in a cold house can mean investing in essentials such as warm blankets, or an electric blanket or electric throw rug. If you have a heating system with a thermostat, setting it for around 18°C is optimal for sleep, or 16°C with blankets
Preparing for Bed: If you want to know how to stay warm in bed, layering is the best option. This allows you to remove layers through the night as your body warms up. As for how to keep your feet warm in bed, woollen socks provide excellent insulation while allowing you to retain warmth.
As your body has to drop two to three degrees to initiate sleep*****, it can be helpful to warm up before bed by having a hot bath, by doing some gentle exercise, or by drinking a non-caffeinated hot drink. Your body should shed this heat quickly, allowing you to fall asleep faster.
Overall, keep the cold out of your house as far as possible, keep the temperature down in your bedroom, and layer up to stay comfortably warm. Try to take in natural light during the day, and just as you would at any time of the year, avoid heavy foods before bedtime and be sure to exercise.