With the days becoming noticeably darker as we head into the clocks going back, it’s time to minimise the impact on our energy levels and prepare to beat the winter blues.
Although it’s only one hour’s difference, it’s enough to cause serious disruption to our sleeping and waking cycles as well as our holistic health.
The darker mornings and evenings can have a detrimental impact on our health including a greater risk of cardiovascular events, mood disorders and road traffic accidents. The end of the long summer days can also impact our circadian rhythm; the darker mornings can make it more difficult to wake up full of energy as certain hormones such as cortisol are triggered by light.
These slow, sluggish mornings are caused by more than a lack of daylight, and beyond sleep, diet is one of the most important factors contributing to how energetic we feel.
What we eat and when has a real impact on our energy levels. Starting the morning with foods packed with protein, fibre and good fats can help you to feel fuller for longer.
Simple carbs or high-sugar foods, such as fizzy drinks, biscuits and cakes, will have the opposite effect because their energy is metabolized quickly, creating sudden spikes and drops in blood sugar levels, which can result in a “sugar crash”. Foods like nuts, pulses and wholegrains can help keep you going throughout the day.
Registered Nutritionist and Sleep Expert Rob Hobson explains: “The clocks going back and the darker mornings can often be a shock to the system, which can leave us feeling lethargic. But winter mornings don’t have to be doom and gloom – with the right routine, you can wake up feeling just as energised as you would on a sunny summer morning.”
“Eating the right way is really crucial to maintain that get up and go. Research suggests we’re more likely to crave foods high in fat, salt and sugar when we’re tired but it’s important to prioritise your longer-term energy levels as simple carbs such as high-sugar foods will create sudden spikes and drops in blood sugar levels, which can result in a ‘sugar crash’.
Fibre-rich foods help minimise blood sugar spikes and provide a slow release of energy as they are digested more slowly, which helps you feel fuller for longer”
Alongside diet, our routine and environment can also impact how energetic we feel. To help create a seamless transition as the clocks fall back, Rob’s shared his top tips for an energised morning that will keep you sustained through winter’s darker days:
- Go Analogue with your Alarm – Research has shown that we check our phones anywhere between 80 and 200 times per day. The blue light emitted from electronic devices can have a detrimental impact on our circadian rhythm, causing increased alertness before bed and a greater feeling of sleepiness after a full night’s sleep.
A digital detox before bed is important, but you can also limit your screen time by making sure your phone isn’t the first thing you see in the morning.
Be strict with yourself and limit the digital devices in your room whilst you sleep – choosing an analogue alarm removes the need for your phone to be in the room and the temptation to check it. If you can’t resist temptation to get back into bed when the alarm goes off, try putting it on the other side of the room.
- Boost your day with Breakfast – Getting up and feeling energised in the morning can be just as challenging as getting to sleep, so fuelling your mornings with the right nutrition at a similar time every day can have a positive impact.
If you wake up feeling lethargic, try a healthy breakfast that will keep you sustained, such as plain yoghurt with fresh fruit and a handful (30g) of almonds or if you prefer savoury, sprinkle some almonds on avocado or eggs on wholegrain toast.
Per 30g handful (or about 23 nuts), almonds provide 6 grams of energising plant protein. They are also high in riboflavin (B2), and are a source of niacin (B3), thiamine (B1) and folate (B9), which all play a role in the production of energy in the body.
- Morning Meditation – Stress is one of the biggest causes of sleep deprivation, which can leave us feeling lacklustre. Research has shown that meditating early in the day can help us sleep better at night and can help shrink the amygdala (the part of our brain that detects threats) and thicken the prefrontal cortex which is responsible for higher level thinking skills.
- Exercising your brain in a way to minimise stress and strengthen your thought process can set you up to control your reaction to situations throughout the day.
You might be thinking ‘who has time in the morning?’, but although mornings can be a busy time and not every morning is the same, just five minutes meditation can help to reduce grogginess and start your day as you mean to go on with a clear head and focus.
- Say Hello to Sunlight – In the same way that darkness triggers the release of melatonin, sunlight stimulates the brain’s release of serotonin, a hormone associated with a boosted mood, reduced depression and even better sleep. Without sunlight, our serotonin levels can dip which, in some cases, can cause seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a type of depression that occurs with the seasonal pattern.
Sunlight emits short wavelength blue light which can help to stimulate the brain and make you feel more awake, so it’s important to have exposure to sunlight, which is a challenge in Winter.
Try leaving your curtains open as much as possible and try a light box to simulate the missing sunlight. Adding a light box into your routine is said to increase serotonin and can subsequently boost your mood and make you feel more energised.
- Smart Snacking – Being savvy with your snacks is a really easy way to maintain your energy levels to avoid a slump. Steer clear of foods that are high in sugar and instead choose a healthier option like a handful of almonds or a banana.
Research suggests that eating almonds (42g) as a snack mid-morning, compared to skipping a snack, can help curb hunger and maintain stable energy levels.
Almonds may also be an effective way to reduce the effect of lunch on memory decline; a study looking into the “post-lunch cognitive crash”, when memory and attention start to flag, found that eating a high-fat lunch with almonds resulted in significantly smaller declines in memory scores compared to a high-carb lunch without almonds.