It’s that time of the year when it’s dark in the morning when you get up and dark when you’re done with the work day. Plus, for many, winter means gray days and little sunshine between the darkness. This lack of light affects sleep and can have a noticeable impact on your energy, motivation, appetite, and overall mental state. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is very real for those unfortunate enough to suffer from it and can lead to more prolonged periods of depression. One way to stay ahead of the winter blues is to get better sleep with a regular sleep schedule. The goal is to maintain a consistent sleep routine despite the shorter days. The desire to sleep your way through the day or nap through the late afternoon because of the darkness is considered poor sleep hygiene and could actually make you feel worse.
Remember Your Internal Clock
So, what can you do to keep your schedule on track? Fortunately, there are ways to keep your body’s internal circadian clock ticking normally so you can get the most from your sleep and ensure you’re sleeping at the right time. The hardest part of it all is staying consistent in your sleeping and eating habits. As it gets darker and colder, we want to do less and be more comfortable. To better combat winter fatigue, try to maintain your sleep schedule. If you don’t have one, maybe now is the time to develop one. Determine what time you’ll need to go to bed each night and wake up each morning in order to get 7-8 hours of sleep. In addition to setting a morning alarm, set an evening reminder so you know when it’s time to wind down and get ready for bed. Do your best to stick with this sleep schedule, even on the weekends if possible.
Getting your body moving in the morning is key part of the equation for maintaining healthy habits that promote good sleep. If you’re not exercising at a gym then find a physical activity you enjoy that can be done at home or outdoors, saving you time and possibly money. Also, be sure to watch what you eat and think about the timing of your eating too. Eating your meals and even your snacks at the same times each day is another tip for keeping a routine that can actually benefit your sleep. Be mindful of what you eat too. Comfort food is a treat when the weather is cold but having too much of a good thing, especially heavier foods, can negatively affect your sleep.
We’re all drawn to hitting the hay when it’s dark out due to our body’s natural response to light and dark signals. Because of this, it’s important to get exposure to more light during the day to gain the energy needed to make it through the dark late afternoon hours. Exposure to light actually delays the release of melatonin, a hormone that makes us feel sleepy. When you wake up in the morning, open your window blinds or take off your eye cover for sleep so the rising sun acts as a natural alarm clock. Try to spend at least a little time outdoors each day, especially in the morning if possible. Whether it’s taking a walk or even just sipping some coffee outside, taking in the sun’s rays helps wake your body up. Depending on the weather, eat lunch outdoors or plan a walk or run with friends. Getting exercise when it’s light outside can help you get the vitamin D you need while also preparing your body for a better night’s sleep later. If you’re concerned that you might have a vitamin D deficiency, talk to your doctor and ask whether you would benefit from taking a supplement.
Other Ways to Get Light
If you’re always feeling tired, and even time outside and adjusting your sleep schedule isn’t helping, you may want to discuss light therapy with your doctor. Light therapy gives off bright light that mimics natural outdoor light and affects the brain chemicals linked to mood and sleep. The overall goal is to ensure you’re finding and gaining exposure to light whenever you can during the day. By raising your energy and delaying the production of melatonin, you’re stimulating the part of the brain that wants to feel lethargic and sleepy. With more energy during the early evening darkness, you’re allowing yourself to stick to a normal bedtime and wake-up routine year-round.