It’s Winter. You go to work and it’s dark, and when you get home it’s dark. It’s basically always dark. Bummer.
Shorter days do, however, bring opportunity for healthy change. Shorter days mean more sleep, right? Not always. The problem is that when the sun goes down, we turn on more screens and lights (Christmas tree?)and mental stimulus, pushing back our bedtime further and further.
As a reminder, it’s Winter. What do we do in Winter? We eat more junk (comfort food and Christmas cookies) and we drink more (holiday parties and family visits). That’s a very simple equation for weight gain.
What does all of this mean? Well, you’re getting less sleep. In fact, according to the National Sleep Foundation, Americans are getting less sleep than ever before (and not just in Winter); 16% of Americans average less than 6 hours a night! That lack of sleep and weight gain can lead to:
Feeling really sleepy at work
Having difficulty falling asleep
Struggling to get into work (raise your hand if you’ve already called in “sick” because you just can’t get out of bed)
Our habits as Americans are all screwed up. With 1.9 billion overweight people in the world people, and 600 million of those obese, we’ve got some work to do.
Not tired, not hungry
Lack of Zzzzs is the number one saboteur of hormone regulation, appetite maintenance, and overall physical and mental function.
You see, the body runs on an internal clock known as the circadian rhythm. This clock helps regulate appetite hormones such as ghrelin (“Feed me.”) and leptin (I’m full.”), as well as affects the brain's reward center, making snacking (and the vending machine) super desirable.
From a muscle building standpoint, the circadian rhythm also controls the fluctuations of “master hormones” such as testosterone, cortisol, and growth hormone; all playing a very important part in building and maintaining that hard-earned muscle.
Less light can be a good thing
The sun is getting more sleep, and you should too. Winter is the perfect opportunity to begin adjusting your sleep habit! Shorter days means longer nights, and that darkness is prime time pillow time
Bedtime should be a ritual; something you do without thinking. Our brains are very adaptable, so if your routine is to shower, put your jammies on, and brush your teeth when it gets dark out, this “trigger” sends signals to the rest of the body to start getting ready for rest.
Set up your own routine
Start with a simple goal: getting an extra 30 minutes of sleep each night. Yes, that means stopping the Netflix countdown before the next episode starts or missing that last quarter of that football game. Set your bedtime ahead by 30 min earlier and stick to it like an appointment.
Avoid stimulants (coffee) and alcohol before bed. Save stimulants for earlier in the day and save alchohol for the weekends, when you have some more time to make up some hours. That “night cap” can turn a restful sleep into restless sleep, leading to the never-ending cycle of bad sleep-more stimulants-late bedtime-repeat cycle. Prevent this cycle from happening by dropping these things too late in the day.
Get the room as dark as you can. Room darkening curtains are your best friend, and get that TV out of the bedroom. While you’re at it, turn your phone upside down while it charges on the night stand. Get rid of as much light as you can.
Don’t sit and scroll in bed. Get that in before you get between the sheets. The longer you stay away from light, distractions, and mental clutter, the faster you get to that restful state. The bed should be for SLEEP, not another mobile office hub.
Push away those late night munchies. Yes, that Monday night bowl of popcorn is the WRONG bedtime ritual and will only set a bad tone for the rest of the week.
Think about taking a natural sleep aid supplement (such as magnesium and valerian root) before you start your pre-bed ritual. This will be especially useful if you’re having difficulty falling asleep a little earlier.
Whatever it is that gets you in bed 30-minutes early and gets you into a positive ritual, make it work for you. You eventually want to build up to a full 7-8 hours each night. Once you do, and you hit it consistently, you’ll experience the true magic of a well-rested body and mind.