It’s 6am. Your alarm goes off, but it’s still dark outside.
That’s the reality for many of us as the days get shorter and autumn draws in.
But while we likely still get the same amount of hours sleep as we did in the summer months, there’s something about those gloomy autumn mornings that make it much harder to wake up, fend off tiredness and feel alert for the rest of the day.
So what’s going on?
According to sleep expert and deputy CEO of The Sleep Charity, Lisa Artis, our biology is working against us.
‘In autumn it’s getting darker in an evening, which means melatonin (the sleep hormone) is produced earlier and makes us feel sleepy,’ she says.
‘It is also darker in the mornings which keeps our melatonin levels high, meaning that we feel sleepy throughout the day.
‘Natural light makes you feel more awake and signals to your internal body clock that it’s time to wake up and to stop producing melatonin.’
If you’re struggling to get up in the morning, Lisa suggests positioning your alarm far away, using a sunrise alarm (one that gets brighter to wake you up), putting the lights on soon after you wake up, and having a cold shower.
All of these things can make us feel more alert and help if our bodies feel out of sync with the time of day.
‘Open your curtains so that as soon as it starts to get lighter you will feel the benefits. Consider using light box therapy if you really do struggle,’ she says.
How to beat winter tiredness
- Continue to practice good ‘sleep hygiene’, which includes keeping regular sleep and wake hours and making sure you’re sleeping on comfortable, supportive bed.
- Take a look at your pre-bedtime routine and see if there is anything that you could change to improve your sleep.
- Alcohol is bad for sleep and, while it might make you feel tired and go to sleep quickly, your sleep won’t be as deep meaning it won’t be as restorative for your mind or body.
- Small changes to your diet or routine can make a big impact on your sleep quality.
From a nutritional standpoint, there’s things to keep in mind too.
Lisa Marley, nutritionist for beverage brand Nohrlund, says reduced daylight can disrupt our circadian rhythm (the internal body clock) and lower sunlight exposure can reduce our vitamin D levels, impacting energy.
‘To feel more energised, focus on a well-balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, proteins, and healthy fats,’ she says.
‘Ensure you’re getting enough vitamin D and drinking enough water as hydration can combat fatigue.
‘Dried apricots are a great choice for energy as they are a great source of iron. Bananas are high in potassium, complex carbs and vitiating B6. They are a instant energy booster.’
It’s also worth getting a blood test to check your iron and vitamin D levels, to see if you need supplements.
Though alcohol isn’t sleep’s best friend, as we move closer to Christmas, drinking socially will ramp up for many – which can also impact sleep. But Lisa says there are things you can eat to aid recovery, and begin to feel more alert.
‘Eating blueberries before and after drinking can help with drink related inflammation. Sweet potatoes are a great way to replace magnesium and Vitamin A, due to lost stores caused by alcohol consumption,’ she says.
‘Eating an avocado or a banana before you turn to your tipple of choice can protect against liver damage as like bananas, they contain high amounts of potassium.
‘Roasted vegetables with wholewheat pasta is a great dinner to eat if you have a hangover. The high water content in vegetables will help with dehydration and the pasta will help you feel full and stop the sugar cravings.’
It’s time to get your routine in check, as winter is out to bite.
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