How to Beat the Winter Dip and Fix Your Sleep

Image credit: christels on Pixabay / CC0 Public Domain

Many people, including myself, don’t feel that chipper during the winter. It’s not a downright depression, but things aren’t just going as smoothly in the winter compared to the summer. I think my lower mood has to do with a disturbed sleep pattern, and judging from my Facebook newsfeed, I’m not the only one.

Polyphasic Sleep

The BBC website ran an article in February 2012 called ‘The Myth of the eight-hour sleep“. I’ve also seen a LiveScience article on the same topic from 2011 making its rounds. For some reason they are being shared a lot right now. I think the authors are right, segmented sleep is more natural, but it’s much harder to implement in our modern society that keeps office hours.

I’m living in NW Europe and around December 21st, the sun sets at 4pm and only rises again around 9am. In our society where the working day is from 9 to 5, it basically means you go to work in the dark and go back home in the dark, missing every single cue that a day has passed. So you need to really pay attention to this scarce commodity called ‘daylight’ in the winter and make sure your brain gets exposed to it. But how do you do that when you’re stuck inside for most of the day?

1. Go to bed in time

In the summer you will wake up easier in the morning because it’s already light outside. In the winter you’re out of luck. Therefore, making sure to get enough sleep is more important as it will be very difficult getting before being fully rested. In order to do this, I set an alarm on my phone that reminds me at 9pm to turn off screens and relax a bit, so I can be in bed in time.

2. Use a more gentle alarm clock

The rattling mechanical alarm does its job waking you up at the right time, but when you wake up in the middle of REM sleep, you will feel like you’ve just been hit by a truck and hit the snooze button or fall in another deep sleep and oversleep. I use the SleepCycle app on my iPhone which monitors your sleep and wakes you up in the lightest phase. You won’t have this groggy feeling and actually get up in time. I’m sure the Google Play store has similar apps.

3. Have something to look forward to

During the winter you might need a little extra motivation to get up. I bought a time switch for about 3 bucks and use it with my coffee maker. When my alarm goes I know (and smell) the coffee that is brewing. As I love fresh coffee, it provides an extra incentive to actually get up, to avoid the coffee getting cold (and old!). I also set the table for breakfast before I go to bed and make sure the kitchen is tidy.

4. Soak up the light and get some exercise

You may have to go to work when it’s still dark, but make sure to work near a window and go outside during your breaks and even take a walk or do some exercise during your longer lunch break. Getting some exercise early in the morning by hitting the gym before work might be even better. The exercise is not only a great way to wake your body up, it’s also great to burn some extra calories during the holiday season to avoid gaining weight.

5. Avoid sleeping in on your days off

It’s so tempting to sleep in until whatever time you want when you don’t have to work. But doing so may break your sleeping pattern. Sleeping experts advise to avoid sleeping in on the weekends.

Ever since I started doing these things, it has been much easier to get up early and to maintain my good mood. I hope it helps other people, too!