Each autumn, we set the clocks back by one hour (spring forward, fall back). While we seemingly ‘gain’ an hour, this rapid shift affects our exposure to light and our circadian rhythm. When rhythms shift, as with daylight savings, the body takes notice. Our circadian clock regulates the release of hormones that affect mood, hunger, and sleep.
It can take a week or more to adjust to the changing of the clocks, and shift in daylight. Our daily commutes both morning and night are in almost complete darkness, which impacts our energy levels, mood, and sleep. Sunlight boosts serotonin, which elevates mood so get sun exposure wherever you can!
Set Yourself Up for an Easier Transition
Shift Bedtime—In the days leading up to the time change, try shifting bedtime 15 minutes later each night. This can be especially helpful to parents of young children. Be consistent with usual wake times.
Sun Exposure—Aim to get exposure to the sun and natural blue light as soon as possible after waking. This can be tricky to accomplish in the winter months. Consider using a wide-spectrum light therapy box (sometimes known as a SAD lamp-seasonal affective disorder).
These light boxes mimic the full spectrum of light emitted by the sun, without the harmful UVA and UVB rays. Using a light box has been shown to reduce seasonal depression or the ‘winter blues’, improve sleep, and positively impact energy levels throughout the day. If morning sun exposure is difficult to fit into your schedule, strive to get outside as early in the day as feasible. My last post went deep into the ways light affects our health—if you’d like to read more you can find it HERE.
Fresh Air—Breathing fresh air is more vital to sleep than you may think. Inhaling fresh air can raise oxygen levels in the brain. More oxygen results in an increase in serotonin, a key neurotransmitter that boosts mood, and makes you feel happy, calm, and relaxed. When we are breathing in the cool, crisp air, it lowers our temperature, and our body has to work harder to regulate. This expends energy, similar to exercise, and often why you will feel tired after coming indoors after being out in the elements.
Exercise—As little as 30 minutes of aerobic exercise during the day can improve sleep that same night. Moderate aerobic exercise increases the amount of slow-wave sleep you get. Slow-wave sleep is deep sleep, the state in which the body and brain rejuvenate. Regular exercise releases endorphins—helping to stabilize mood and decompress the mind—both of which are important in naturally transitioning to sleep at night. Try taking a brisk walk midday—take in the natural sunlight, breathe in the fresh air, and get some exercise all at once!
Natural Sleep Aids
If you are finding restorative sleep is still alluding to you, the following natural sleep aids may help (Herbs referenced from Prescription For herbal Healing—Phyllis A Balch, CNC).
Lemon Balm (Melissa Officinalis)—has a mild sedative effect. Often paired with valerian in many natural sleep aid products. Delicious in tea, very calming and soothing for nerves, anxiety and insomnia. Avoid lemon balm tea and tinctures if taking barbiturates as it may increase the sedative effects of certain drugs.
Valerian (valerian Officinalis)—Commonly used in conjunction with lemon balm, valerian has similar sedative effects. It is most effective for those who have chronic sleep issues like insomnia rather than those who have occasional sleep difficulties.
Passion Flower—Traditionally used to combat anxiety and insomnia, compounds in passion flower occupy the same receptor sites in the brain as benzodiazepine drugs, and may increase the effects of certain medications. Please check with your primary care physician for contraindications before using. (Not for children under the age of 2)
Chamomile—Traditionally known as a calmative, chamomile is widely used as a relaxing tea.
L-theanine—Promotes relaxation and is commonly used for psychological stress, and sleep disturbances, and improves non-rapid eye movement sleep (NREM).
Magnesium Bisglycinate—Low levels of magnesium in the body are associated with anxiety, depression, sleep quality, and insomnia. Magnesium is an essential mineral, involved in more than 300 processes in the body.
NSDR Protocol—Non-Sleep Deep Rest (NSDR) is a catch-all phrase that encompasses yoga Nidra, self-hypnosis, or even a short nap. All of these practices help the body reach a deep state of relaxation. NSDR slows down brain wave frequency, similar to that of being asleep, however, you remain awake. It’s been shown to improve learning, help with insomnia, reduce anxiety, and reduce chronic pain. There are several guided exercises online, which take you through a mental body scan, focusing on specific areas of the body to release tension and stress. Dr. Andrew Huberman has a great 10-minute video HERE that I recommend.
Melatonin—Should be used sparingly, as a last resort. Think of melatonin the way you would an over-the-counter pain reliever. Used infrequently, for a short amount of time. More is not better–many supplements contain upwards of 10mg when often 1mg would suffice. Melatonin supplementation can interact with many prescription drugs, so please check with your primary healthcare provider prior to use. Side effects such as nausea, dizziness, next-day drowsiness, and ‘melatonin nightmares’ are all signs that the dosage should be reduced.
Here in the Northern Hemisphere, the natural world is preparing for pause. Animals are busy gathering food and building fat stores to get ready for hibernation; plants are shedding foliage, going dormant, and storing energy for next spring’s explosion back to life and regrowth. We too are entering an energetic shift.
With the cooler weather and shorter days upon us, there comes a time of adaptation and adjustment for our bodies and minds. This time for humans is also when we turn inward. Our energy is decreased, signalling a need for conservation. With the waning daylight, our biological cues are that of rest and recuperation.
With this slower pace of living, we tend to be less active. It is vitally important to be proactive and not become stagnant and sedentary. With the ushering in of each new season, it is a great time to check in with your body, and reset. I like to do a quarterly detox. This helps shed the toxic buildup from the previous few months, incorporate the foods of the season, and reassess any underlying food sensitivities or health concerns.
Before starting any detoxification protocol, ensure your pathways of elimination are open. You don’t want to embark on a detox without this—toxins that are released from tissues need a way out! If left to circulate, they can be reabsorbed by the body, and make you feel pretty awful in the process. You need to be regularly moving your bowels, drinking plenty of water, and working up a sweat daily. The pathways of elimination in the body are through the liver, kidneys, digestive tract, skin, respiratory system, and lymphatic system. I wrote a Detox BLOG if you want more information than what is in this blog.
- Stay Hydrated—In the winter months, we may forget to drink as much water as we need. In the hotter season, we tend to sweat more, thus feeling thirst signals more frequently. Winter and indoor air can be very drying and it is easy to become dehydrated. We need proper hydration to efficiently excrete waste products through urine, keep the bowels moving, and for sweat and respiration—all important for keeping the pathways of elimination open. Aim for eight, 8oz glasses of water daily. Herbal (non-caffeinated teas) count! I like to start my day with warm water with freshly squeezed lemon. This gentle detoxifies the liver and stimulates digestion for the day ahead. I also add in a few drops of trace minerals to ensure I am meeting the nutritional requirements for these microminerals.
- Avoid Unnecessary Drugs And Alcohol—Drugs and alcohol are very taxing on the liver. Our liver works so hard for us, filtering out the thousands of environmental toxins we are exposed to on a daily basis. Not to mention the liver is involved in over 500 vital functions in the body, and never gets a break!
- Eat A Well-Balanced, Nutritionally Adequate Diet—Opt for local, organic, non-GMO produce and grass-fed or pastured animal products whenever possible. Do your best with what your budget and availability allow. Remove inflammatory foods from your diet, seed oils, refined sugar and carbohydrates, and choose foods as close to their whole state as possible.
- Movement and Exercise—While it may be tempting to skimp on regular exercise, it is important to maintain physical activity throughout the winter. Our skin is our largest organ, and sweating helps remove toxins through our pores. Our lymphatic system (a key part of immunity) depends on movement to keep lymph flowing and help remove cellular waste products.
Stay tuned next week, when I will continue to discuss the effects of seasonal change. Specifically, I share about Dietary Shifts for fall and how to support your lymphatic system.