We’re moving into that time of year again when some of us (probably many of us) suffer from “winter tiredness”. It may be really hard to get up in the morning or you may feel an intense desire to sleep at 3 or 4 in the afternoon. You could actually feel a kind of depression. What the heck is going on?
Well, you are not alone. There are reasons why this happens when the days get shorter and colder.
Stepping out on a sunny day is one of life’s simple pleasures but we don’t get the chance to do that very often in winter. The decrease in sunlight hours has a big effect on your energy levels and you may have what is called seasonal affective disorder or SAD.
This occurs due to changes to your circadian rhythm. Okay, what does that mean?
The circadian rhythm is your sleep/wake cycle. In the Paleolithic era, humans were hunter-gatherers. There was no electricity or artificial light. Therefore, humans lived in alignment with the light-dark cycle of their environment – sleeping when it was dark and awake while the sun was out. It is thought that the circadian rhythm is an adaptation to the light-dark cycle found here on earth. Ideally, this rhythm keeps you awake during daylight hours and asleep at night. But when it is dark when we wake up in the morning and gets dark way before we go to sleep there is a disruption in the cycle.
Also, melatonin production is linked to light and dark, so less sunlight means more melatonin. Melatonin is the hormone controlling how sleepy you are. When you alter melatonin production, you begin altering the circadian rhythm. It’s sort of like jet lag.
It would be great if your sleep-wake cycle could align with the winter’s light-dark cycle. Being completely aligned with the season’s natural rhythms is not really possible. However, you can certainly take steps to better align with the winter season.
Absolutely not! There are many things you can do to beat the winter slowdown.
Open your blinds as soon as you get up in the morning to let the natural sunlight in. Get outdoors as much as you can. Take a brisk walk at lunchtime in the sunshine.
Get a light box and use it for 30 minutes in the morning (before 8 AM) and another 15-30 minutes late in the day (between 5-7 PM). This helps especially if you get very sleepy in the early evening.
We all know the value of a good night’s sleep but sleeping too much is not good for you and will make you feel even more sluggish. You may feel like sleeping late since it doesn’t get light until later in winter but aim for 8 hours per night and get up the same time every day. If you sleep in by more than an hour, you will change your circadian rhythms. Cut down on caffeine in the evenings and power down those electronic devices. The light from these devices has a physically alerting effect. And if you have tried everything and still need help falling asleep, consider trying a low dose of melatonin.
So, it’s cold outside but cranking up the heat will only make you more lethargic and interfere with sleep. Sleep experts recommend somewhere between 60 and 67 degrees Fahrenheit for a deeper winter sleep.
It’s important to maintain a healthy weight. Obesity has been linked to increased daytime sleepiness and fatigue. Eat a balanced diet. When it’s cold and dark you may crave “comfort foods” like pasta, potatoes and bread. However, you will have more energy if you eat plenty of fruits and vegetables and lean meats. Also avoid lots of sugar. You’ll get a rush of energy but it will wear off quickly.
We make vitamin D from sunlight but in the winter we may not get enough. Low vitamin D is linked to many issues including lack of energy. Good sources in foods are oily fish, eggs, and fortified cereals. And you can also take a vitamin D supplement.
You may feel like curling up with a good book or your favorite TV show in the cold and exercise may be the last thing on you mind. But for a real energy boost you need to do some kind of physical activity every day. Shoot for 150 minutes of exercise per week (NHS guidelines). Endorphins released during exercise will give you a much-needed lift. Obviously, you can go to the gym but there are other options. Jogging or walking in the sunshine, skiing and ice-skating are all great winter activities.
Days are short and you have a lot to get done. Stress can leave you drained and low on energy. Build relaxation time into your day even if it’s just stopping to take slow deep breaths and focusing on nothing but your breathing for a few minutes. Also, sleep and fitness work hand and hand so make sure to get enough sleep.
Hopefully the above tips can help you through the next few months. You may also consider trying our Mdrive line of men’s supplements to help with energy and mood. It may be just the extra boost you need!
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