During the winter months when the temperature is in the minuses and you get “marrow cold” (when you are so cold it feels even your bone marrow is cold), it can be so easy to stay indoors and almost shut yourself off from the world. I say almost, because for many of us not going to work is not an option so we often hurry from the car to work and then from work to the car with as little interaction with nature as possible; after all if you stay out too long you are sure to freeze to death, well at least it seems that way.
You start to feel a little more lethargic, a little slower and you just want to stay inside and curl up under a nice warm doona with a good book or just go to sleep.
Well take heart – this makes you totally normal. Our bodies naturally begin to slow down during the colder months, it’s something that many animals do over the colder months, from bears to birds.
The basic brain science is this:
- Circadian rhythms. Your body’s internal clock or sleep-wake cycle responds to changes between light and dark to regulate your sleep, mood, and appetite. The longer nights and shorter days of winter can disrupt your internal clock – leaving you feeling groggy, disoriented, and sleepy at inconvenient times.
- Production of melatonin. When it’s dark, your brain produces the hormone melatonin to help you sleep and then sunlight during the day triggers the brain to stop melatonin production so you feel awake and alert. During the short days and long nights of winter, however, your body may produce too much melatonin, leaving you feeling drowsy and low on energy.
- Production of serotonin. The reduced sunlight of winter can lower your body’s production of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that helps to regulate mood. A deficit may lead to depression and adversely affect your sleep, appetite, memory, and sexual desire.
Now in the old days (I’m not talking that long ago), before daylight savings and electricity on demand, humans were more in tune with the cycle of the seasons. Our ancestors were more likely to go to bed closer to sundown and wake up at sunrise These days we are awake longer hours and have manipulated time with the introduction of daylight savings, affecting our circadian rhythm and therefore our production of melatonin and serotonin. In some cases this can lead to a serious condition called Seasonal Affective disorder (SAD).
How can we work around this? After all our families, jobs, and business don’t hibernate. Here are a few tips:
- Get some sun. No I don’t mean go out and sunbake just get a little extra:
- Get your coffee from the furthest coffee shop
- Take a walk outside, no sunglasses
- Increase natural light in your home by keeping the curtains open
- Read by a window
- Open the blinds at work
- Diet and exercise. I know, I know, it’s like I’m trotting out the old faithful but it’s true: exercise boosts serotonin levels and a diet low in fat will help you feel less sluggish (not to mention help reduce the those few extra kilos our bodies put on over winter). Omega-3 has been found to help mood during winter. Believe it or not, one of the places with the longest winters, Iceland, has a very low rate of SAD: research has shown this is due to the amount of fish they eat, over 90kg per year. No I’m not saying gorge on fish, but adding extra fish won’t hurt over winter and maybe an omega-3 supplement.
- Stay connected. Not on social media, but live in person, with people you can reach over and touch:
- Go out with friends
- If you are a business person, go to networking events
- Join a group – a walking group would kill about three birds with one stone
- Set yourself a winter goal. No, not a goal that requires you to be indoors on your own (like watching the entire Game of Thrones), but a goal that can be achieved or that you can see some improvement in over 3-4 months, like learning to dance, visiting friends and family every fortnight, hosting a dinner party, or learning to play an instrument, even if it is the recorder.