It's that time of the year again when getting out of your bed in the morning becomes the most difficult part of your day. Winter generally makes you more tired, partially because the amount of sunlight you receive a day decreases significantly. Darkness arrives much earlier than it would compared in summer and suddenly your sleep cycle is thrown out of place. With less sunlight in a day, we become out of sync with our natural circadian rhythms, making us more lethargic and sleepy (Psychology Today, 2010).
Winter also affects our mental health. Lots of people actually become depressed during winter, also known as the "winter blues". The medical name for this winter depression is seasonal affective disorder (SAD) (NHS, 2018). Again, this has to do with the amount of sunshine and light we get exposed to during the day. Light that enters the eye causes changes in hormone levels in the body. In our bodies, light functions to stop the production of the sleep hormone, melatonin, that helps to keep us awake. With shorter daylight hours in the winter, higher melatonin is produced, thus causing lethargy and symptoms of depressions (ibid).
So what can we do to fight the winter fatigue? How can we stay productive and use the hours in our day effectively? Here are some research-supported tips to make you feel more awake.
1. Brighten up your environment.
With less hours of sunlight during winter, it is no doubt that your body craves for sunlight as its source of energy. In fact, sitting next to an artificial light, also known as a light box, for 30 minutes per day can be as effective as antidepressant medication (Earley, 2018). While you can purchase a fairly large (and slightly pricier) lamp for your home or workspace, you can also get a portable one if you're always on the go. For more cost-effective solutions, you can simply sit next to a window and open blinds and curtains for extra doses of sunshine.
Personally, I´d recommend taking 20 to 30 minutes a day having a walk outside. It may be freezing, but there are so many benefits that comes with being outside. A breath of fresh air and daylight helps to refresh your mind, improve focus, reduce symptoms of SAD, and lower stress levels (ibid).
2. Work out!
To improve your mood and energy level, working out is a healthy and practical way of staying healthy physically and mentally. In fact, exercising under bright lights is recommended as it is even better for seasonal depression (Earley, 2018). In one study conducted by University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in 2005, it proved that 30 minutes of moderately intense exercise, 5 days a week reduced symptoms of depression by nearly half after 12 weeks (McMillen, n.d).
In another study done by Harvard University suggests that exercise is in fact, an all-natural treatment to fight depression. To improve symptoms of mild to moderate depression, this study recommends:
Walking fast for 35 minutes a day, 5 times a week
Walking fast for 60 minutes a day, 3 times a week
To sleep better, try pilates. Research by Appalachian State University, in Boone, North Carolina suggests that pilates is associated with better sleep.
To feel more content, try yoga. A 2010 study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine revealed that yoga is proven to reduce anxiety, increase oxygen flow and improve relaxation.
To increase your energy, try cycling. Researchers at the University of Georgia in Athens (UGA) found out that after a single 30-minute session of stationary cycling proved a boost in energy levels.
To achieve clarity, try weights. In a study published in the Journal of Clinical and Experimental Neuropsychology in 2010, older adults who did simple, low-intensity weight-training exercises 3 to 5 times a week for 1 month performed significantly better on cognitive tests than those we did not do weight training.
To reduce stress, try tai chi. Tai Chi was linked to reduced stress in two separate studies last year—one in the Journal of American College Health and the British Journal of Sports Medicine.
Nonetheless, if you feel that you are suffering from SAD, you are encouraged to take preventative measures and seek professional help if necessary.
3. Treat your body with better food.
Photo by Caroline Attwood
Winter has a tendency to make you eat more because of the drop in body temperature. This is because eating makes you feel warmer and consuming calories also warms up the body, as energy is being added to your system (Gurney, n.d.).
However, if you constantly respond to these food urges by eating high-sugar and high-fat foods, your blood sugar levels experiences significant increases followed by a sharp dip, which leaves you feeling even colder and hungrier than before, causing the entire cycle to repeat itself (ibid).
Thus, in winter, it is exceptionally important for you to be conscious of what you eat because the food you consume also affects your mood.
Here are the 5 foods you should eat during winter to boost your energy levels while keeping healthy.
Oatmeal is high in zinc (essential for proper immune function) and soluble fiber (associated with heart health) (Titgemeier, n.d.). It provides essential nutrients for winter in a convenient and affordable way. In addition, they served as excellent face masks that can help to detox, tighten and moisturise your skin.
Soup is perfect winter food simply because it keeps you warm and full. It is versatile and can be made with a combination of your favourite ingredients. It is always smart to make a big pot of soup, separate it into smaller containers for freezing, and to use it when you need a quick lunch or dinner. If you like a good vegetable soup, I´d recommend a Pea, Courgette and Basil Soup which is simple and delicious. Alternatively, here are some of Jamie Oliver´s gorgeous winter soup recipes you can try.
3. Broccoli and Cauliflower
These vegetables are your top defense against winter sickness. They are both both high in vitamin C, which is linked to enhanced immune function (ibid).
Potatoes are excellent sources of two immunity boosters—vitamins C and B6, delivering 25% and 29% of your daily needs per medium potato, respectively (Jennings, n.d.). Purple potatoes are rich in anthocyanins—antioxidants that are associated with lowering cancer and heart disease risk to soothing inflammation (ibid).
5. Citrus Fruits
Lemons, limes, oranges and grapefruit, are ideal at wintertime because they are packed with vitamin C—1 medium orange delivers more than 100% of your daily dose (ibid).
As you may have noticed, the foods that I have listed are very easily accessible and affordable at your supermarket. Eating healthy does not always mean that it has to be expensive, difficult or fussy. Most importantly, these foods keep your body and mind healthy during winter so you can use your hours in a day efficiently.
I hope this post has been practical in helping you take small steps to becoming more productive during winter. Don´t let the weather get you down!
Earley, B. (2018). 8 Scientifically-Backed Ways to Beat the Winter Blues. [online] Real Simple. Available at: https://www.realsimple.com/health/mind-mood/emotional-health/winter-blues [Accessed 25 Nov. 2018].
Gurney, S. (n.d.). Why we eat more in winter and how to avoid weight gain | Vitality Magazine. [online] Vitality Magazine. Available at: http://magazine.vitality.co.uk/why-we-eat-more-in-winter-and-how-to-avoid-weight-gain/ [Accessed 25 Nov. 2018].
Jennings, K. (n.d.). 5 of the Healthiest Winter Foods. [online] EatingWell. Available at: http://www.eatingwell.com/article/37860/5-of-the-healthiest-winter-foods/ [Accessed 25 Nov. 2018].
McMillen, M. (n.d.). Benefits of Exercise to Help With Depression. [online] WebMD. Available at: https://www.webmd.com/depression/features/does-exercise-help-depression#1 [Accessed 25 Nov. 2018].
NHS. (2018). Do you have the winter blues?. [online] Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/stress-anxiety-depression/winter-blues-sad/ [Accessed 25 Nov. 2018].
Psychology Today. (2010). Fear Not the Winter Blues. [online] Available at: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-chemistry-calm/201012/fear-not-the-winter-blues [Accessed 25 Nov. 2018].
Rodriguez, T. (2018). 5 Mood-Boosting Workouts. [online] Real Simple. Available at: https://www.realsimple.com/health/fitness-exercise/5-mood-boosting-workouts [Accessed 25 Nov. 2018].
Titgemeier, B. (n.d.). 5 Foods You Should Eat This Winter. [online] Health Essentials from Cleveland Clinic. Available at: https://health.clevelandclinic.org/5-foods-for-winter-weather/ [Accessed 25 Nov. 2018].