Home MIND & BODY Tips to Adjust to the Shorter Days of Winter

Tips to Adjust to the Shorter Days of Winter

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For many people, the end of Daylight Saving Time is an excuse to celebrate that extra hour of sleep. But for some, it’s nothing to raise a glass to.

The shorter days and earlier sunsets of late fall and winter can impact your health.

These effects can range from disrupted sleep — either insomnia or oversleeping — to the depression, weight gain, and irritability that might accompany seasonal affective disorder.

If you find that the time change leaves you feeling (or sleeping, or eating) out of sorts, you can take simple steps to brace yourself for winter.

Here’s what the experts advise.

1. Prepare your body

If you can, ease yourself into the new time frame before the clocks roll back.

“Start inching your schedule by 10-minute increments toward the soon-to-be new rhythm,” advises Ilene Ruhoy, MD, Ph.D., an adult and pediatric neurologist in Seattle. “That includes sleep, wake, and meal times.”

After clocks roll back, try to stay consistent with your new schedule.

Woman sitting near window, texting

2. Prepare your mind

Set goals for the season, so it doesn’t feel like you’re staring into a chilly void.

“Do an inventory of things you want to accomplish, and follow through with a plan and action,” suggests Joe Novak, PsyD, a licensed clinical psychologist in Northfield, Illinois.

“Find creative ways to maintain purpose, like working on a creative project you have not had time to do or volunteering for an organization whose cause is meaningful to you.”

3. Get some light

The circadian rhythm is the body’s internal clock, which affects a wide range of physical and mental processes.

The time change may throw it off, but you can make simple moves to get back on track. Try to wake up with the sun instead of burying your head in the duvet.

“Stand outside in the natural light for 10 to 20 minutes each morning after you wake to help set your circadian rhythm,” says Ruhoy.

If you feel consistently bummed out or low-energy as the weather cools, ask your doctor about light therapy or taking a vitamin D supplement.

Sitting in front of a light box (also known as a SAD lamp, for seasonal-affective disorder) for several minutes daily may alleviate the winter blues symptoms.

Couple going for a run in winter

4. Stick with your exercise routine (or get moving)

“Be sure to maintain consistency in your exercise regimen,” says Ruhoy. “Now is not the time to slow it down or ramp it up.”

One exception: “If you’re not exercising at all, it’s a good time to start a slow exercise program such as yoga or walking,” Ruhoy adds.

Exercise helps your body produce endorphins, a.k.a. the body’s “feel-good” hormones, which can profoundly improve your mood.

5. Get outdoors

“Get outside, while the weather is comfortable, to experience green space and visit with others in your life (while remaining safe and keeping a social distance),” says Novak.

“Consider buying a heater for your patio or backyard to extend the time you can comfortably socialize outdoors.”

Woman on Zoom call with friends

6. Stay social

This year, staying connected with your social village will require some creativity. But don’t settle into self-isolation.

“Challenge your friends and family with new ways to use platforms like Zoom to be spontaneous and have fun, especially during the holidays,” suggests Novak.

“When the weather is not conducive to gathering outdoors, find creative ways to see family and friends safely. Meet up to shop for groceries, or run errands together, or take a masked and socially distanced walk around your local mall,” he adds.

7. Maintain a healthy diet

Keep eating well. Carby comfort food may feel good in the moment — and has its place in moderation — but if it becomes a crutch, you’ll pay the price with lower energy and weight gain.

“Make sure that nutrient-dense foods make up a large portion of your daily meals. What you put in your body makes a huge difference in how you feel mentally and physically and in your energy level,” says Bansari Acharya, M.A., R.D.N., a registered dietitian nutritionist in Detroit.

Acharya recommends the following foods to keep your energy levels up and shield your mental health:

  • Dark green leafy vegetables
  • Cruciferous vegetables
  • Fruits such as blueberries that contain antioxidant-like compounds
  • Legumes
  • Whole grains
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids

“Additionally, decreasing your intake of processed foods and foods high in added sugars will also help decrease your risk of feeling sluggish,” Acharya adds.