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Tiredness is often associated with cold months and wintertime. In winter, many people notice physical and mental tiredness. Some will complain of a general lack of energy, while others may note a lack of interest and creativity.
It is normal for our body and mind to react to climate change. Winter is, in fact, a festive season that offers many joys and entertainments. If you wish to enjoy winter fully, you need to understand why you may feel tired and sleepy all the time, and how to recover your balance.
I have compiled in this article a list of the most common causes of winter fatigue, that can make you feel unusually tired and sleepy almost all the time. This list also offers ways to deal with cold months and “winter depression”.
Lack of sunlight and Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
When winter comes, days are shorter and the sunlight level is reduced, thus our biological clock (circadian rhythm) needs a reset.
Lack of sunlight causes our brain to produce more melatonin, a hormone that makes us sleepy. After a transition period, the body will naturally adjust to the new environment.
However, for some people, this adjustment will not happen and they will continue to suffer from an overwhelming need for more sleep and overall feeling of tiredness, known as winter depression or seasonal affective disorder.
Winter depression or seasonal affective disorder
The seasonal affective disorder is a type of bipolar depression that occurs more frequently in women (4 in 5 are females) and has been linked to the changing seasons.
It typically starts during fall and progresses into winter months. This disorder is not only due to the disruption of the person’s biological clock and melatonin levels, but to a decrease in another hormone/neurotransmitter called serotonin. The latter is responsible for the person’s mood drop, which leads to a feeling of sadness and depression.
Associated symptoms of SAD include: low energy levels and fatigue, hopelessness, sometimes suicidal thoughts, oversleeping, weight gain with a tendency to crave sweets and starchy foods.
The difference between SAD and a regular type of depression, lies in the fact that individuals affected with SAD fully recover during springtime and summertime. If this is the case, light therapy has been shown to be more effective than antidepressants; and blue light seems to work even better than red or green light.
To facilitate the reset of our biological clock, the first thing one can do is to take advantage of the daylight hours. As soon as you get up, open your curtains and windows and let the sunlight in. One should also get outside more and spend more time in natural daylight.
One can also change the working hours or make the working environment as bright as possible.
Vitamin D supplementation when necessary
As we all know, vitamin D is a sun vitamin, and the lack of this vitamin can make you feel tired. Vitamin D is essential for the immune and nervous systems; as such, it merits to be actually considered as a hormone.
It is recommended to check your vitamin D levels and supplement it if you are found deficient.
Vitamin D deficiency has been associated with SAD and chronic depression. Ideally, going out in the sun is the best way to get your vitamin D, but in the dark winter months, particularly if you live far from the equator, take a vitamin D3 supplement with magnesium and vitamin K2.
To battle with winter fatigue, getting vitamin D from organic food should be considered. Excellent sources of vitamin D are oily fish (salmon, sardines mackerel), eggs, and organ meat.
Get a restorative sleep
Given that wintertime makes us sleepy, it is a bit strange to think that we can actually experience a lack a restorative sleep.
However, being sleepy all the time, and sleeping whenever you feel a need to, is counterproductive and disrupts our biological clock.
Often, sleeping for more than 8 hours can make us even more grumpy, tired and sluggish.
Everyone should strive to maintain a regular sleep schedule. Follow high quality-sleep rules like going to bed early, avoiding light interferences from computer screens, iPads and cell phones, before sleeping time, etc.
Make healthy food your priority
To beat winter fatigue and sleepiness, one needs to understand that eating healthy is important. The common mistake almost every person does is ditching the salads from the winter menu and reducing the intake of raw vegetables (replacing it with pasta, bread or potatoes).
For more energy, you need fruits, vegetables and healthy fats. There are plenty of winter vegetables you can pick from: carrots, turnips, swede, parsnips, and more. Also, try to avoid processed food, sugar and artificial sweeteners.
Read the list of the foods you can eat every day and learn the reasons why you should include these foods in everyday nutrition. Moreover, it would be interesting to know what foods can boost a bad mood.
Get enough exercise
There is no reason why anybody should stop exercising during cold months. The truth is that we can find many excuses to skip workouts, but being in shape and getting involved in any type of exercise in winter is beneficial for us in many ways.
Physical activity has been shown to increase endorphin (feel-good hormone) levels, normalize insulin levels and another hormone called leptin, which regulates appetite.
Winter is the perfect season to experiment with other types of exercising, particularly winter sports.
With regular exercise, one will feel energized and more positive. Battling with depression and winter fatigue would be easier if one is dancing, skiing, skating, or simply enjoying walks. Choosing the right workout will also keep you from gaining weight and maintaining a healthy body.
Other causes of tiredness and sleepiness?
When you are sleeping in a room that is too hot or too cold, your body will react to the temperature and try to adjust its mechanism to it.
The body temperature falls during the phase of initiation of sleep. Therefore, it has been suggested to keep the bedroom temperature between 16 0C and 19.5 0C for optimal sleep.
If the room is too hot or too cold, you will not experience deep healthy sleep.
Heavy evening meals
Eating late, or consuming foods hard to digest (fats), will slow down the digestive process and disturb your sleep. Avoid late meals, fried foods and choose foods that are easy to digest instead.
Indoor air, which is usually dry during wintertime, affects the mucous membranes of the nose, and the throat for those who breathe with the mouth open.
Mouth breathing during sleep should be corrected as it is harmful to our overall health, apart from the fact that it disturbs your sleep. As a result, you will wake up in the morning with a feeling of fatigue, even exhaustion.
Therefore, make sure to place water containers on or near radiators, or the heating source, to moisten the air.
Tell us about your experience with winter fatigue!
Image credit: DepositPhotos.com
Medically reviewed by Dr. Thouria Bensaoula on Sept 15, 2019.
Last article update: 10/17/2019