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Good night's sleep means resisting temptation to reach for extra blanket, expert says

By Malcolm Sutton, Friday June 7, 2019 - 09:08 EST

Dropping temperatures have eased many Australians into winter in recent weeks, but despite the chilly nights, a sleeping expert warns that people might want to reconsider that extra blanket.

Sydney sleep consultant Cheryl Fingleson said for some people who coped poorly with seasonal change, .

And while cold weather made people want to switch on heaters and rug up, Ms Fingleson said it was not always conducive to getting a good night's sleep.

"A good temperature for our room is 20 degrees Celsius, not warmer, because when we're warmer we find it far more difficult to get to sleep."

She advised people to only turn on bedroom heaters intermittently or not at all because core body temperature needed to drop in order to reach deep sleep.

SAD usually affects people during autumn and winter and can cause a need for more sleep, difficulty waking up in the mornings, tiredness, a lack of energy or interest in activities, irritability and difficulty concentrating, increased appetite, weight gain and depression.

Mild temperatures required

Ms Fingleson said there were four distinct sleep stages that each person required for a full cycle of sleep, which usually lasted about 90 minutes.

Stage one is when we drop off into a light sleep, which means you are still alert to what is happening around you and can be woken easily.

Then, when breathing and heart rate slows, eye movement stops and blood pressure decreases.

"That's the cycle when we kick or our foot goes out," Ms Fingleson said of twitches that people might experience.

She said slowing everything down was necessary to ease the body into stage three, the deep sleep stage.

This is when the body repairs muscles and tissues, stimulates growth and development — but the body cannot relax while core body temperature remains too high.

"We need our body and muscles and everything to be relaxed so our body can start healing.

"This is the reason why when you're ill, you sleep more often, because your body repairs in the third sleep cycle."

The final stage is the REM cycle, when eyes move under their lids, dreaming takes place and body temperature rises again.

The entire cycle takes about 90 minutes.

Link between keeping warm and nightmares

Ms Fingleson recommended investing in polar fleece sheets and woollen underlays to help regulate temperature while we slept.

For children, she said to do a skin check at night to see if they were too warm — their skin should be comfortable to touch, perhaps a little cool, but not cold.

"Little ones who are too warm won't sleep well, just like adults probably don't sleep well if they feel overheated.

"In fact, toddlers and preschoolers who are too warm at night may be more inclined to have nightmares or night terrors, so avoid the urge to pile on the fleece."

Find sun and moderate carb intake

Ms Fingleson said the release of melatonin — a hormone that regulates the body clock — could also be affected during winter.

This was because people spent more time indoors to avoid the cold or that it was dark by the time they left work for the day.

People should do their best to get outside, Ms Fingleson said, even if it was only on their lunch break, to soak up as much natural light as possible.

She added that a general preference towards hearty, carbohydrate-rich foods in colder weather meant people were producing more leptin, a hormone that regulated metabolism and appetite.

"In winter, our body feels like it needs a denser supply of carbohydrates.

"So we're eating more carbohydrates and our metabolism is slowing down because of the leptin that's been released and that's also disturbing our sleep cycle."

Ms Fingleson recommended maintaining a moderate diet with plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables.


© ABC 2019

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