In the United States the seasonal transition from summer into fall and winter has begun. That means many short, dark days are ahead. It can be tough on both the brain and body.
Humans are hardwired to be awake during the day and sleep at night. Waking up to darkness and coming home from work in the dark throws off this hardwiring, otherwise known as circadian rhythm.
Because of the seasonal transition, many struggle with SAD – seasonal affective disorder. It’s very common for people to get depressed, have insomnia, or experience mood swings around this time of year.
Upwards of 25% of otherwise healthy individuals experience mood changes.
Thankfully, there are key lifestyle habits you can follow to make sure that you adjust to the seasons without a hitch.
The Body’s Natural Rhythm
Contrary to popular belief, seasonal affective disorder isn’t just a mental challenge. Your hormone balance and metabolism are affected too!
Signals to and from the brain throughout the entire body change in response to changes in light and darkness. The body produces cortisol in the morning and melatonin at night, directly related to light exposure.
One problem humans have is that there’s always light available.
200 years ago this wasn’t the case and instead the body’s circadian rhythm synced naturally to day and light.
These days, with lights from electronics, phones and computers, your brain struggles to maintain your natural rhythms.
What Happens When Your Rhythm is Off?
Your body likes routine, especially the brain.
If you switch routines or do not have a consistent routine you throw off your circadian rhythm.
Think about how hard it is to adjust to daylight savings time in the spring and fall.
Light exposure affects melatonin production, which is tied into serotonin and hormone production.
If you are not making enough melatonin you can develop insomnia and depression.
Those who have trouble sleeping also report poor memory, recall of words, and difficulty concentrating.
Many of the symptoms of circadian rhythm disturbances mimic menopause because the body’s natural rhythm for a woman is changing during menopause.
Weight gain is a symptom of circadian rhythm imbalance. Late night eating due to work or habit can throw off your circadian rhythm causing insomnia and weight gain.
How to Reset Your Circadian Rhythm
If you’re feeling affected by the seasonal change or desire to sync your brain and body better, here are some of the best ways you can reset your circadian rhythm.
The best way to reset your circadian rhythm starts with lifestyle choices and habits. Start by choosing one or two of the areas of focus below and create solid habits.
Tip #1: Light Up Your Day and Dim Down Your Nights
– Light therapy – 20 minutes of a light box every morning – try the Verilux Tablet happy light
– Stop blue light/dim lights from electronics at 7-8pm to support melatonin production by 9pm
– No screen time one hour before bed
Tip #2: Herbs & Supplements to Consider
– Adaptogenic herbs for stress relief: licorice root, Siberian ginseng, holy basil, ashwagandha
– Melatonin 1-3mg and 50-100mg 5HTP in evenings starting in October
– Take 10,000 IU vitamin D starting in October until May no matter where you live!
Tip #3: Dial in Your Eating
– Don’t eat after 7pm
– Keep dinner the smallest meal of the day
– Eat on a consistent schedule
– Try intermittent fasting
– Start by simply putting at least 12 hours between dinner and breakfast
– Eat between an 8-12 hour window during the day
– Fast between a 12-14 hour window in the evening
Tip #4: Get in Regular Exercise
– Exercise consistently, try 4-5 days a week – HIIT with strength training is best
– Research shows working out in afternoon is best but consistency at any time is good
– If you’re extremely fatigued find ways to boost cortisol production
– Wind down before bed with stretching, yoga, or a foam roller
Tip #5: Regulate Your Body Temperature
– Think warmer during the day, cooler at night
– Don’t wear too much clothing to bed
– Keep the bedroom cooler – 60-67 degrees is best – maybe open a window
– End showers with cooler water
Tip #6: Manage Your Stress Daily
– Remember to breath, smile and laugh
– Do what you love – have fun!
– Spend time with family
– Have screen-free evenings (can’t mention this enough!!)
Maintain a Healthy Lifestyle All Year Long
Looking at the tips above, are there habits in your day or night you could adjust?
Review the timing and consistency of your eating and exercise and see how you’re doing.
Aligning yourself with your body’s natural rhythm is all about creating healthy sustainable habits.
If you reset your circadian rhythm each fall you’ll adapt better to seasonal change, plus live a happier and healthier life all year long.
Did you enjoy this post? If so there’s a podcast dedicated to this subject. Click HERE to access the podcast.