By: Natasha Uspensky, CHHC
The other day, I went to bed at 9:30. Now if you know me, you know how totally crazy that is. I used to be the world’s biggest night owl. Even as that started to change, I’ve never voluntarily gone to bed before 11pm. Bonkers. Now, do I feel super lame and old? No! Was it because I had nothing better to do? Of course not! Rather, this insanely early bedtime was a result of my listening to my body and taking steps to combat winter blues, lack of energy, and general malaise. And guess what? It worked! I woke up before my alarm, to bright sunlight streaming through my window. I had tons of time for myself in the morning to get outside with the pup and relax into my day. I was super energized for an early yoga class (which I rocked, dare I say). And I was super productive and motivated all day long. So what’s my secret?
This time of year, as the days get shorter and darker, it can get a lot harder to motivate yourself to stay healthy. The lack of sunlight puts us in a foul mood, zaps our energy, and can wreak havoc on our immunity. And all this, in turn, can make it nearly impossible to hit the gym, stay away from fatty, sugary comfort foods, and stay motivated to take care of our bodies.
This impulse to hibernate is natural. Our bodies and metabolisms naturally start slowing down. We need more sleep to stay energized. And the decrease in sunlight certainly can lead to depression (seasonal affective disorder), food cravings, and general crankiness.
Unfortunately, we are not bears. So we can’t just peace out until March rolls around. But there are some crucial adjustments that we can make to our lifestyle, eating, and supplementation that substantially decrease the negative impact of dreary winter darkness on your body and mind. And believe me, they work! Here are my 5 ways to deal with winter darkness
1. Adjust your schedule.
The number one most important thing you can do to increase energy and boost your mood in the winter is to get the plenty of sleep at the right time of night to maximize your daylight hours. If you’re sleeping until the last minute, forcing yourself out of bed, and rushing through your morning, you are robbing yourself of those crucial morning daylight hours, which can spell the difference between being a moody mess for the next 4 months, or being your usual, happy self.
To maximize your morning, you NEED to get to bed earlier. It’s dark, it’s cold, what do you really have to do at night anyway? Keep those Netflix binges down to just one or two shows and get thee to bed before 11pm, OR just listen to your body! If you’re starting to feel sleepy way earlier than that, don’t fight it! That’s a prime example of your body telling you exactly what it needs, so do yourself a favor and heed it’s call.
With your new early bedtime, you can wake up earlier, giving yourself more time in the morning to maximize daylight, before you hunker down at your desk for the next 8 hours.
Have trouble getting to sleep early? Check out How to Sleep Better Naturally for all my best tips!
2. Maximize your sunlight.
First thing when you wake, you need to get some light on you to set your circadian rhythms up for an energized day. Open those blinds and stand in front of your sunniest window for a few minutes! Go take your dog for a longer walk outside. Go for a run in the fresh air. Exposing yourself to natural light in the morning combats winter depression, fatigue, and boosts your immunity!
You also need to get some light during the day. Leave the office for lunch, run out for tea instead of making it in the office, take breaks to walk around the block and breath in some fresh air. If you can get a total of 20 minutes time spent outdoors in the daylight hours, you will definitely feel a difference in your body and mood.
If you suffer from bonafide seasonal affective disorder (SAD), or if you have trouble getting out into the daylight every day, you may need to supplement with a sunlamp. These puppies simulate the sun and do wonders for your mood. Use your lamp for 30 minutes in the morning, and you can even give yourself a few energizing bursts of light during the day as well! (Just not after 4pm). Check out the NatureBright SunTouch Light and Ion Therapy Lamp.
3. Supplement smartly.
One of the biggest causes of cold weather colds, moodiness, and lack of energy is vitamin D deficiency. In the northern hemisphere, it is completely impossible to get enough vitamin D from it’s natural source (sunlight) during the winter months, and deficiency in this crucial vitamin is at the root of host of unpleasant health problems. Make sure to get 4000 IU of vitamin D daily, preferably in a liquid, sub-lingual formulation that is absorbed most efficiently by the body. My favorite is Biotics Bio-D-Mulsion Forte. Just 2 drops under your tongue every morning, and you’re good to go!
4. Move that thang!
Moving your body is crucial during these cold, dark months. It boosts your mood, immunity, and heats you up from the inside out. The morning is the best time for exercise in the winter, so make good use of your extra time in the morning to go for a run, hit a yoga class, or do some spinning. If getting out of the house is just too hard, than pick a sunny spot by the window and workout at home! Check out my Youtube playlists for Quick Morning Workouts.
If morning workouts just aren’t feasible during the week, than pick one or two nights a week to exercise after work, put them in your calendar, and bring your gear with you so you don’t have to go home first. Aim for being done by 8pm at the latest, so you’re not too wound up for an early bedtime. Then add one or two workouts during the day on the weekend to make up for the rest!
If you’re really bothered by the cold, shoot for heating workouts like hot yoga or anything intensive where you’ll work up a sweat. Shoot for at least 180 minutes of movement a week, broken up in whatever configuration that works best for you.
5. Up those healthy comfort foods.
Eating seasonally does wonders for boosting mood, energy, and immunity in the winter, and thankfully, there are tons of great seasonal comfort foods that totally do the trick! Put those cold salads and smoothies on hold for a few months (they are way to hard on your body in the cold weather), and opt instead for comforting soups, stews, and hot dishes.
Increase your healthy whole grains like brown rice and buckwheat — this is the time of year when your body loves them best! Up your healthy fats like coconut oil and avocados, which are awesome for energy. And load up on all that awesome seasonal produce like sweet potatoes, gourds, and root veggies that are hearty, sweet, and utterly comforting.
There are also some healthy, seasonal desserts that can feel particularly good this time of year. Things like gluten-free apple crisp and cranberry walnut banana bread are my faves. Check out my healthy seasonal fall recipes!
BONUS STEP: Increase the coziness factor!
Making your home feel warm and cozy is crucial for improving your mood in the colder months. Opt for warm lighting, candles, fluffy blankets and pillows, and make sure the temperature is just right. Sip hot teas at night, and take time to curl up with a great book. Trust me, it makes all the difference.