That time of year has come. Your alarm goes off, your eyelids peel open slowly, feeling heavier than a truck full of elephants. You press snooze, they close, your alarm sounds again. Surely that wasn’t five minutes? You fight back, hitting snooze for a second time, managing a rather smug grin for cleverly setting your alarm ten minutes before you actually needed to get up. But there it goes again! Have you entered some sort of time warp???
This time, there’s no back-up plan, and no wry smile. Instead a reluctant hand creeps from beneath the nice warm duvet and pulls slowly at the curtain, looking to let in a bit of light and stir your brain into action ready for the day ahead. But to your disappointment all you are greeted by is yet more darkness, somebody has stolen the sun. And the warmth you’ve become accustomed to in summer, especially this year for a nice change.
Zombie-like you rise, arms hanging loosely by your side as you shuffle to the bathroom in your fluffy animal slippers. You know you’re still half asleep as after getting out of the shower you find yourself trying to comb your hair with your toothbrush. Time for a coffee.
If you recognise the scenario above you’re not alone. This scene, and many like it are repeated at least five times a week across Britain between the months of September and March. And that’s over half the year!
So what’s going on? Well it’s all to do with your big warm friend in the sky, the sun. As well as offering warmth in the summer months, he also gives you something essential for life, light. Sunlight is a rich source of vitamin D which helps build healthy teeth and bones. It also helps your food to grow and gives it the nutrition you need to perform at your very best. And very crucially, it helps to regulate levels of hormones like cortisol, melatonin and others that play such a big part in regulating your mood and energy levels.
A lack of sunlight can leave you feeling down, as in Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD, lethargic and demotivated. Obviously too much can be bad for you too with sunburn and the associated risks, but in British winter you’re far likely to get too little.
So what can you do about it?
Well, quite a lot actually. To start with, you can realise that your body clock, or circadian rhythm changes with the seasons. In the shorter days of the year you’ll probably need more sleep and be more tired. Up until Thomas Edyson interfered with nature with the invention of his now fairly widely used lightbulb (you may have seen them in the shops), people generally went to bed much earlier in the winter months. In fact, research shows that before TV’s, the internet, 4G phones and electric lighting, people slept for many more hours than they do these days, averaging over 9 hours a night if not more.
OK, so you may not be able to hibernate for winter (some remote villages in France and other parts of the world still effectively do this) but you can get yourself to bed at a reasonable time and prepare your sleeping environment as best you can to wake feeling refreshed in the morning.
Try these tips to help manage your way through the darker months:
- Get to bed before 11pm. In fact get to bed and switch off by 10:43 pm as on average it takes just over 15 minutes to fall asleep.
- Sleep in complete darkness. Get good curtains and switch off standby lights on electrical goods, or remove them altogether. Charge phones elsewhere or away somewhere if possible. Even the tiniest amount of light on any part of the skin can interfere with sleep quality.
- Don’t have it too hot. Sleeping in a cooler environment can help improve sleep quality.
- Light up your mornings. Try a Lumi clock, it wakes you up with a gradually increasing light instead of the stress of a noisy alarm clock. Not convinced it will work? Try it on a weekend morning when you don’t have to get up, you’ll be surprised.
- Get outside - make the most of breaks at work and in life to get some light in the day. Wrap up warm and get out for a walk, a run or just a trip to the park with Autumn in full splendour.
- Get away - plan a winter sun holiday, it’s amazing what an energy boost it can supply.
- Try a classical wake up - ditch the aggressive alarm for a calmer start to the day. Annoying alarms can be stressful causing big surges in adrenaline levels, which may be followed by a subsequent slump and not particularly good for you.
- Synchronise - if you can rise with the sun. This isn’t possible for everyone, but if you can, try it and watch your mood rise like the warm orange ball over that hill you can see out of your window.