Did you set your clocks back this weekend?
Most of us did, and enjoyed that extra hour! But now it’s Monday-back to work and your regular routines-and you’ll probably find that things feel a little weird.
You’re likely to notice it especially at the end of the day, when you look up and discover that the sun has already set. Where did the day go?
Like it or not, we’re entering that time of year where we are going to experience less and less sunlight with each passing week. That plus the time change messes with our natural circadian rhythms, and can make it difficult to get the sleep we need. (Remember that lack of sleep can make you look older.)
The dwindling light can also lead to other problems, like mood changes, depression, fatigue, brain fog, and unhealthy food cravings.
To help you adapt, we’ve got 10 ways you can boost your energy and mood during the fall and winter months. You don’t have to take the darkness lying down!
1. Get as much sun as you can.
Research has shown that we naturally respond to the sun. Not only do we need it to create vitamin D, but to help stimulate the production of wake and sleep hormones, and to keep our energy levels high.
That means you need to get as much sun exposure as you can, which during the fall and winter season, is more difficult. Not only is the sun in the sky for less time, but winter weather can block its life-giving rays.
Adapt your schedule to get out during peak sun times. Maybe you can exercise in the morning instead of the evening, or use your lunch hour to take a walk. The weather may stop you on some days, but if the sun is out, bundle up and get outside for at least 10-15 minutes a day.
2. Watch what you’re eating.
One unfortunate effect of the lack of sunlight and the shorter days is that we start to crave high-fat, high-sugar foods. Researchers think maybe it’s because we’re evolutionarily programmed to stock up our bellies in the colder months. Others think the cold weather makes us crave high-carbohydrate “comfort” foods that burn off quickly and give us a warm sensation. Of course, all those holiday meals and treats don’t help.
The truth is that no matter what the reason, most of us gain 1-2 pounds or more during the winter months. You can resist this trend in the following ways:
- Adjust your recipes for your favorite foods to contain fewer calories. Add butternut squash to fill in macaroni and cheese, for example, or include more veggies and less meat in your stews and casseroles.
- Choose healthy fats: Fatty fish, nuts, flaxseed, whole-fat dairy and yogurt, and other similar foods help maintain mood and satiety, helping you to battle cravings.
- Eat foods that energize you: Try chia seeds, dark chocolate, green tea, fresh fruit, leafy greens, and Greek yogurt to keep your energy levels steady.
- Eat smaller meals: When you eat a lot, you naturally feel fatigue as you digest all that food. Eat smaller meals to avoid this feeling, and to help you resist getting overly hungry-which leads to overeating.
3. Follow the sun to bed.
When it gets dark earlier, you may naturally feel like you want to go to bed earlier, too. It’s okay to follow this instinct, as it will likely lead to better sleep, especially if you’ve been waking up earlier. That sun shining in the window in the morning is pretty hard to ignore, so if your instincts are to wake up with it, feel free to adjust your bedtime schedule.
You may also want to use this time to re-examine your sleep environment. Do you have a good, supportive mattress? (They last only about 8-10 years, at most.) Is your room cool and dark? Have you taken out all the electronics (computers, televisions, cell phones)? All of these steps can help you fall asleep faster, and sleep more deeply.
Finally, if you’d rather stick to your regular wake and sleep schedule, consider investing in some blackout blinds that will keep the morning sun from interfering.
4. Get more exercise.
This is a great way to counteract the “weight gain” tendency during these months, and can also help you keep your energy high despite the increasing darkness. If you can combine your exercise with some sun exposure, do it.
Think about how you can shake up your exercise routine. Instead of that long run you used to do after work, maybe you can work in a walk mid-morning, and a sprint before sunset. Consider pairing up with a friend to play racquetball or attend a spin class. Use your imagination to come up with new ways to incorporate movement into your day.
5. Eat more foods rich in tryptophan.
If you suffer from seasonal affective disorder (SAD), or even if you just tend to suffer the blues now and then during the fall and winter months, consider upping your intake of foods with tryptophan. In one study, researchers found that it was just as effective in improving mood and fatigue as light therapy.
Some good options include eggs, spinach, crab, pumpkin seeds, lamb, tuna, and oat bran.
6. Think about vitamin D supplements.
With reduced sun exposure, your body naturally makes less vitamin D. You can get out as much as you can, but particularly if you live in the northern latitudes, you may want to talk to your doctor about supplements.
Vitamin D is critical for bone health, cardiovascular health, immune health, and much more, but many of us are not getting enough. According to a 2008 study: “Vitamin D deficiency is now recognized as a pandemic.”
Not many foods contain vitamin D, and even those that do don’t contain much, so it’s difficult to get enough from the diet. Try a daily supplement of vitamin D3 (the form best absorbed) of 600-800 IUs.
7. Use your nose.
Scents can improve mood and help boost your energy. Try using more aromatherapy during these seasons. It’s an easy way to lift yourself up and make any day better.
Some good, energizing options include bergamot, lemon, grapefruit, orange, rose, and ylang ylang.
8. Don’t forget your skin
Remember that as the seasons change, your skin care may need to change too. The fall and winter months are typically drying on the skin-colder air is dryer, and heat makes it even worse.
Change from a liquid to a creamy cleanser if you haven’t already, use a more balancing toner (such as our Rescue + Relief Spray-it’s refreshing, but not drying), and consider using more natural oils in your moisturizers.
Just a note-both our Calming Moisture and our Body Repair Lotion contain beta glucan, which not only moisturizes, but helps prevent itchy, flaky skin while boosting collagen production. Both also contain several natural oils like calendula, sunflower, jojoba, rosa canina fruit, and more.
9. Avoid caffeine and alcohol before bed.
Caffeine is likely to help you perk up during the day, but it’s best if you avoid it for at least 4-6 hours before bed, depending on how sensitive you are. Alcohol, too, though it may help you fall asleep initially, can interfere with your deep sleep later on.
10. Give yourself time.
If at all possible, try to go easy on yourself for the first week after the time change. Regardless of what you do, you’re likely to feel a little out of sync. In other words, this isn’t the time to plan any big events, if you can help it.
Instead, try to schedule in some time to get in an extra walk or a lunch out with friends-both things that help stimulate your energy and boost your mood.
How do you adjust to the time change?
Solvie Karlstrom, “Why You Need to Eat More Fat (In the Winter),” Rodale’s Organic Life, January 25, 2012, https://www.rodalesorganiclife.com/food/winter-blues.
Ghadirian AM, et al., “Efficacy of Light versus tryptophan therapy in seasonal affective disorder,” J Affect Disord., July 1998; 50(1):23-7, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9716275.
Michael F Holick and Tai C Chen, “Vitamin D deficiency: a worldwide problem with health consequences,” Am J Clin Nutr, April 2008; 87(4):1080S-1086S, http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/87/4/1080S.full.
Adit A. Ginde, et al., “Demographic Differences and Trends of Vitamin D Insufficiency in the U.S. Population, 1988-2004,” Arch Inter Med. 2009; 169(6):626-632, http://archinte.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=414878.