Spring is officially here, and while some of us have embraced daylight savings and are just raring to go, others need a kick-start to shake of the winter fog…..Below are three easy ways to shake of the cobwebs, get your brain out of hibernation mode and into spring.
1) Lighten-up; Darken down
The days are getting longer and the natural morning light should make us feel refreshed and raring to go. Not you? Artificial light could be the reason behind your grogginess.
In modern society, we no longer rely on natural daylight to cue our waking and sleeping. Instead artificial light is almost inescapable. Fluorescent streetlights, LED lights, TV screens, tablets, cell phones, laptops, etc. etc. The list is insidious and endless. This type of light is particularly disrupting to our natural sleep cycle because it emits blue or short-wavelength light.
Blue light acts like continuous bright sunshine. It is absorbed via photoreceptors in the retina, which send a signal to the pineal gland telling the brain it’s daytime. In response, the brain stops production of melatonin. Melatonin is an essential hormone, regulating our natural sleep-wake cycle.
Since we are a diurnal species, we are most active and alert during daylight hours, and sleepy at night. However, by exposing our brain to blue light at bedtime, we confuse our brain into thinking it’s daytime, thus disrupting our natural sleep pattern.
Unfortunately, although blue light is arguably the most disruptive, all wavelengths of light suppress melatonin production to some extent. So sleeping with a glowing digital clock near the bed, flimsy curtains that allow in light, and night-lights can also have an adverse effect on sleep.
Solutions: In today’s quick fix world, it would seem the simple solution to the melatonin production problem would be to take a melatonin supplement. Unfortunately, while melatonin might be helpful for short-term sleep disruption such as jet-lag, melatonin supplements are not recommended as an effective long-term option for sleep issues.
To begin with, although melatonin is marketed as a “natural health product”, there is nothing ‘natural’ about melatonin supplements. It is mostly synthetically made, interacts with several other medications, and can have a wide range of side effects depending on the individual.
These can include daytime drowsiness, insomnia, headaches, depression, blood clotting problems, blood-sugar regulation, and fertility issues.
The issue of individual sensitivity is compounded by the casual treatment of melatonin supplementation, particularly in the USA and Canada, where it available in various pharmacies and ‘health stores’ without regulation and with questionable bioequivalence among manufacturers.
Therefore, if you are considering melatonin, it is best to seek the supervision of a sleep specialist as the dosage and timing of melatonin is critical to its efficacy. The sleep specialist will also measure your body’s dim light melatonin onset, DLMO. This is the time you naturally start producing your own melatonin. Depending on the specific needs of your body clock, the melatonin can be taken before or after your DLMO. This will help reduce some of the side effects such as insomnia and daytime sleepiness that arise from taking melatonin willy-nilly.
All things considered, it would seem a better approach to the melatonin production problem would be to naturally increase the body’s own production of melatonin.
The good news is that a few simple lifestyle changes based on increasing natural light during the day and decreasing artificial light at night will make all the difference.
Step one: Get more daytime light. When you wake, open your curtains and blinds fully, and take your breakfast near a window with natural light. If you are one of the unlucky ones that begin the working day in the dark, you can still get daylight by taking a 15-20 minute mid-morning walk around the block, and taking another at lunchtime. Not only will this fresh air and daylight reset your body clock, the exercise will get the blood flowing and make you more energized.
Step two: Reduce the artificial light. We will start with the easy fix: Replace flimsy curtains or blinds with light blocking material, swap the digital clock for an analogue one, keep lights off, and replace LED lights with soft red-wave light such as amber lights or red lights. Think candle-light and camp fire..
As for reducing the blue light exposure, I’m sure you can guess the advice is to avoid it in the evening. That means NO Smartphone, ipad, laptop or TV at least two hours before bedtime. I will be honest; giving up blue-light in the evening is hard. Pry-my-ipad-from-my-cold-dead-hands hard. Fortunately, there are options for reducing blue light exposure at night without giving up your electronics.
One option is to wear amber-tinted glasses when using your devices or watching TV at night. These glasses block blue light without dimming light, and are an inexpensive and effective way of filtering out blue light.
Another option is download software (for example f.lux; available free) that automatically changes the light on your computer screen depending on the time of day. It works by making the visual display dimmer and warmer (i.e. less blue; more orange) in the evening.
Similarly, for cell phone screens there are a number of apps (for example Twilight and Night filter) that filter sleep-disrupting blue light.
You can also adjust the screen settings on the ipad/iphone/kindle.
In any event, bear in mind it’s not just the light that might disrupt your sleep, but the stimulating content. So unless you want to feel groggy in the morning, avoid watching that action movie or answering that work email at 11.30 p.m.
2) Don’t dry out!
One common reason you might feel lethargic and unfocused is dehydration. Dehydration occurs when you lose more fluid than you take in.
We typically associate dehydration with hot weather, however, when it’s cold outside (alas, springtime in Canada is often still below freezing) the heating in your home and office can quickly whip out moisture from the air. In addition, the journey to work in your winter clothes along with being warmed by the spring sunshine can cause you to perspire. Both conditions can deplete your body’s water store. Add to this the desire to consume warm but dehydrating drinks such as coffee and tea and you are on the fast track to dehydration.
Solution: Mild dehydration can be quickly reversed by increasing your intake of fluids. However, the most optimal solution is to not become dehydrated in the first place. Make it a goal to drink six to eight glasses of water or herbal tisanes daily. Drink more if you are exercising or are in a hot dry environment. Cut down on alcohol and caffeinated beverages as these are dehydrating. Ideally don’t wait until you get thirsty to drink.
3) Exercise: It’s not what you do, it’s the way that you do it.
Exercise is crucial for good health and boosting energy levels. Not moving can trap you in a vicious slothful cycle of lethargy. However, timing and duration is crucial to balancing your energy levels.
Exercising intensely just before bedtime will raise your adrenaline and heart rate. This will interfere with your sleep, leaving you tired the next morning.
Also, an exercise routine that is too long or too high intensity for your level of fitness will actually deplete your energy, leaving you tired out.
Solution: Aim for at least 30 minutes of exercise a day to boost energy levels.
Switch your routine so that high intensity aerobic exercises are done earlier in the day and low-intensity activities (such as stretching or a stroll) later in the evening.
In summary, getting plenty of fresh air and exercise during the day, staying hydrated, and limiting the amount of artificial light in an evening are simple and effective ways to help you spring out of hibernation into spring.
For more information on this topic or how you can achieve high energy and mental focus please contact me.