It’s that time of the year when it’s dark in the morning when you get up and it’s dark when you head home from work. Plus, for many, winter means grey days and little sunshine between the darkness (we’re looking at you, Portland, OR). This lack of light affects sleep and can wreak havoc 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 within a normal sleep schedule. The goal is to really maintain a consistent sleep routine despite the shorter days. The desire to sleep your way through the day or 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. How? Just look to the light. According to a recent study, subjects that were given vitamin D supplements showed improved sleep quality, reduced sleep latency, increased sleep duration, and even improved the subjective sleep quality of subjects with a sleep disorder.
We’re all drawn to hitting the hay when it’s dark out due to the cells in our hypothalamus that respond 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 tired. So, during the day, try getting outside. Eat lunch outdoors or plan a run with friends. Get up from your work desk, put on a warm coat and scarf and take a walk. Getting exercise outside helps you get the vitamin D you need while also preparing your body for a better night’s sleep later.
Other Ways to Get Light
If you’re always feeling tired, and even time outside 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. Want more tips on how to change some lifestyle habits to get better rest? Click the links below for more information.