What is winter tiredness?
If you find yourself longing for your warm, cozy bed more than usual during winter, blame the lack of sunlight. As the days become shorter, your sleep and waking cycles become disrupted, leading to fatigue. Less sunlight means that your brain produces more of a hormone called melatonin, which makes you sleepy. Because the release of this sleep hormone is linked to light and dark, when the sun sets earlier your body also wants to go to bed earlier – hence you may feel sleepy in the early evening.
While it’s normal for all of us to slow down generally over winter, sometimes lethargy can be a sign of more serious winter depression. This health condition, known medically as seasonal affective disorder, affects around one in 15 of us but can be treated. Read more about how to recognise winter depression. If your tiredness is severe and year-round, you could have chronic fatigue syndrome.
Try these tactics to boost your vitality during the winter months.
Sunlight is good for winter tiredness
Open your blinds or curtains as soon as you get up to let more sunlight into your home. And get outdoors in natural daylight as much as possible, even a brief lunchtime walk can be beneficial. Make your work and home environment as light and airy as possible.
Fight fatigue with vitamin D
The wane in sunshine over the winter months can mean you don’t get enough vitamin D, and that can make you feel tired. The main source of vitamin D is sunlight, but here in the UK we can't make any vitamin D from winter daylight between October and March so it’s especially important to get vitamin D from your diet. Good food sources of vitamin D are oily fish (for example salmon, mackerel and sardines), eggs and meat. Vitamin D is also added to all margarine, and to some breakfast cereals, soya products, dairy products and low-fat spreads. Even with a healthy, balanced diet it’s possible to become vitamin D deficient. The government recommends that people at risk of vitamin D deficiency – including everyone 65 or over – should take a daily supplement.
Get a good night's sleep
When winter hits it’s tempting to go into hibernation mode, but that sleepy feeling you get in winter doesn’t mean you should snooze for longer. In fact if you do, chances are you’ll feel even more sluggish during the day.
We don’t technically need any more sleep in winter than in summer. Aim for about eight hours of shuteye a night and try to stick to a reliable sleep schedule. Go to bed and get up at the same time every day. And make sure your bedroom is conducive to sleep – clear the clutter, have comfortable and warm bedlinen and turn off the TV.
Fight winter tiredness with regular exercise
Exercise may be the last thing you feel like doing on dark winter evenings, but you’ll feel more energetic if you get involved in some kind of physical activity every day, ideally so you reach the recommended goal of 150 minutes of exercise a week. Exercise in the late afternoon may help to reduce early evening fatigue, and also improve your sleep.
Winter is a great time to experiment with new and different kinds of activity. For instance, if you’re not used to doing exercise, book a session at one of the many open-air skating rinks that open during the winter. Skating is a good all-round exercise for beginners and aficionados alike. There are also many dry ski slopes and indoor snow centres in the UK, which will offer courses for beginners. If you’re more active, go for a game of badminton at your local sports centre, or a game of 5-a-side football or tennis under the floodlights. If you find it hard to get motivated to exercise in the chillier, darker months, focus on the positives – you’ll not only feel more energetic but stave off winter weight gain.
Learn to relax
Feeling time-squeezed to get everything done in the shorter daylight hours? It may be contributing to your tiredness. Stress has been shown to make you feel fatigued. There’s no quick-fire cure for stress but there are some simple things you can do to alleviate it. So, if you feel under pressure for any reason, calm down with meditation, yoga, exercise and breathing exercises.
Eat the right foods
Once the summer ends, there’s a temptation to ditch the salads and fill up on starchy foods such as pasta, potatoes and bread. You’ll have more energy, though, if you include plenty of fruit and vegetables in your comfort meals.
Winter vegetables such as carrots, parsnips, swede and turnips can be roasted, mashed or made into soup for a warming winter meal for the whole family. And classic stews and casseroles are great options if they’re made with lean meat and plenty of veg. You may find your sweet tooth going into overdrive in the winter months, but try to avoid foods containing lots of sugar – it gives you a rush of energy but one that wears off quickly. Here are some quick and easy ways to cut down on sugar.