Ugh, why do I feel so different and down in the winter? Hold up! Those winter blues aren’t just in your head. There’s actually real science behind the changing seasons affecting your mood and even sleep, which might be why the beginning of fall has thrown a curveball at your usual snooze routine. Who knew the Earth’s position could affect your shuteye? Yep! The colder temperatures, fewer hours of sunlight, and more time spent indoors can deeply affect your circadian rhythm. So as you venture into cooler weather, here’s what you need to know about how to sync your circadian rhythm with daylight saving time.
Circadi-What? Here’s Why Your Body Clock Matters
You know how the planet runs on a cycle with the four different seasons? Well, you run on a pattern, too, called the circadian rhythm. It’s your internal, 24-hour cycle that operates based on environmental cues like sunlight.
These cues trigger responses such as releasing hormones like melatonin, dropping body temperature before bed, and influencing metabolism & mood. When you have regular sleep and eating patterns, the cycle can run like clockwork. But when it’s thrown out of balance by things like less light exposure, sleep interruptions, or stress, this rhythm can speed up or slow down, causing a bunch of health concerns:
- High blood pressure
- Cardiovascular disease
- Metabolic disorders
- Poor digestion
Now, about that light exposure. Obviously, the days are shorter during the wintertime, which means less light exposure and, more importantly, a circadian rhythm disruption.
Oh hello, lousy mood symptom!
But let’s talk more about stress, especially since holiday stress is right around the corner. The constant release of cortisol throughout the day can confuse your body into never knowing what time of day it is. This causes circadian rhythm issues, thus causing sleep issues, which cycles back into more stress.
It goes both ways. When your circadian rhythm suffers, high-stress levels follow. However, if you can work to regulate your body clock from the start, it might help to reduce some of that holiday worry and improve your coping abilities.
Some signs you may need a circadian rhythm tune-up:
- Trouble falling asleep or staying asleep
- Excessive daytime sleepiness
- Difficulty concentrating
- Low alertness
- Trouble with mood and emotions
- Aches & pains
- Digestion issues
6 Ways Tune Up Your Circadian Rhythm With Daylight Saving Time
Okay, so our circadian rhythm is important. It’s probably a good idea to optimize it as much as possible to avoid a.) getting drenched in the winter blues and b.) feeling extra stressed during the holiday season.
Here are six ways to pump up your circadian rhythm awesomeness, especially during daylight saving time and as we head into colder weather.
#1 Get to Bed Earlier
Since it gets darker earlier, why not follow the trend yourself and just get to bed? Hitting the hay an extra hour earlier might aid adjusting to the season change and prevent any further circadian rhythm confusion. If that means you sleep an extra couple of hours, all the better, right? Experts suggest getting to bed by 11 pm to reap the benefits.
Pro Tip: Maintain a consistent sleep schedule as much as possible, including on the weekends. Our body clock thrives off of routines!
#2 Avoid Late-Night Meals
Sleep disruptions can mess with your snooze cycle, and one of the main contributors to this?
When you have large, carb-heavy meals before bed, your body spends the whole time digesting your food and regulating your blood sugar instead of repairing your cells and recharging while you sleep.
Instead, work on consistent meal timings and try to eat at least two hours before you want to sleep. If it’s one of those “I’m too hungry to even sleep” moments, you can grab a small, healthy protein-rich snack like nuts or seeds — just not an entire Thanksgiving meal!
#3 Get Some Sun
Science says 15-30 minutes of sunlight can work wonders for regulating your circadian rhythm. And since your body clock is largely based on environmental cues, it makes sense, right?
Take your sunlight up a notch by incorporating some kind of physical activity outside, whether it’s walking, running, or even gardening.
If it’s too cold, you might consider getting one of those sun lamps that mimic light exposure.
#4 Invest in Blue Light-Blockers
Here’s the thing: stress already messes with your melatonin levels. And when you combine that with the blue light from your technology devices? It’s basically an anti-melatonin party.
Oh heyyyyyyy, sleep cycle problems.
If you don’t want to give up your late-night phone scrolling yet, at least invest in some blue light blocking glasses or even look up apps like Flux. You can also change the settings on your phone to “night mode,” where it minimizes blue light output.
#5 Do a Nighttime Meditation
Hard truth — most of us aren’t great at winding down in the evening. With everything going on in the world and our lives, relaxing might feel like a hard chore. It’s just easier to stress at this point!
Unfortunately, you have to destress and relax before your body feels safe enough to sleep, so promote some chill vibes with an activity like meditation.
Take these guide meditations out for a spin!
- Nighttime Unwind with Amanda Gilbert
- Relaxing Sleep with Deandre Sinette
- Peace Out Bedtime with Amanda Gilbert
#6 Eat More Sleep-Supporting Foods
While eating specific foods can’t directly help you fall asleep faster, some foods contain high amounts of nutrients like magnesium that are associated with better snoozes. (and in turn, stable circadian rhythms)
Some of these foods include:
- Nuts: almonds, walnuts, and pistachios
- Fatty fish like salmon
- Tart cherries
If you eat a balanced, whole foods diet, to begin with, you’re probably already consuming lots of sleep-well foods. Grab those healthy fats and fruits!
Level Out Your Circadian Rhythm & Enjoy Deeper Sleeps
These days it’s all about minimizing stress and feeling good as we head into colder weather and the holiday season. Thankfully, leveling out your circadian rhythm plays a huge part in wellness, so either way, you’re bound to see some benefits, such as deeper sleep and lower stress levels.
Good night & sleep tight!