Winter can be rough. Even if your climate is more temperate, the days get shorter and you may find yourself lacking energy. It is hard to stay motivated when the sun sinks below the horizon before dinnertime. At the extreme end of this lack of energy is seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Ten to 20% of people in the U.S. report feeling tired, “blue,” or otherwise listless during the dark winter months.

SAD, however, is clinical depressive disorder that affects approximately 2% of the population. Women are affected at a rate four times that of men. So what can you do when the days turn dark and your motivation dwindles with the last of the sunlight? There are many different ways to increase energy to stay vital and active during the shortest days of the year.

Sleep well

This may seem counterintuitive, but if you practice good sleep hygiene, including maintaining regular hours of sleep and waking at the same time every day, you will see a more consistent energy level. The longest nights of the year coincide with holiday parties and overindulging, and this can lead to poor sleep in smaller amounts. Try to stick to a regular schedule much as possible, and if you stay up late, still wake at the same time. You may be a little groggy during the day, but that will get you back on schedule quickly.

Let there be light

When you wake up in the morning, turn on all of your lights. It may still be dark outside, but this tells your body that it’s not, causing a natural rise in energy. Similarly, at night, make sure you have plenty of lights on in your house, manipulating your body’s circadian rhythm.

Stay active

Stick to an exercise schedule, maybe working out in the middle of the day when your body starts to lose steam. Exercise leads to a jump in adrenaline, which helps you stay awake and focused. When that adrenaline starts to wane right around bedtime, you will be ready to snuggle down.

Try a coffee nap

There’s nothing wrong with a quick 15-20 minute nap if you just can’t seem to stay awake. Have some coffee before your nap (a “napuccino”) and boost the benefit even more!

Get your vitamin…D

Head outside and take a brisk stroll at lunch. This fulfills your daily exercise requirement, plus you get the rewards of being outside and your daily dose of vitamin D.

Eat

But don’t just eat anything. Like bears, we may reach for fatty, heavy comfort food (the stuff of many a holiday meal), but to stay alert and cognitively awake, better choices are complex carbohydrates and chocolate. Think whole-grain bread with some hazelnut spread. Better yet, make your own dark chocolate hot cocoa mix. But be careful: too much sugar can lead to a sugar crash, so don’t overdo it. A little chocolate goes a long way to boost energy.

Stretch your legs

We sit far more than is healthy, and dark, short days are just one more excuse to curl up on the couch for hours. Resist the urge and instead practice a little yoga. In addition to the overall exercise, many studies prove the mood-boosting benefits of yoga. Yoga has often been recommended to relieve stress, tension, anxiety, and depression, all of which may be present as the light begins to fade. While you’re at it, breathe like a yogi for an even deeper energy boost that lasts all day.

“C” the light

Citrus fruits come in season in the coldest months, and it’s Mother Nature’s way of helping us out. Citrus scents are used in aromatherapy to invigorate and stimulate the senses. Eating citrus helps boost the immune system and ward off seasonal cold and flu, both of which can contribute to a general malaise in the wintertime.

Hydrate

Even on the brightest of days, dehydration can sap our energy and make us irritable. Make sure to drink plenty of water every day. Tea and coffee do count towards the recommended daily amount of fluids, but in excess they can be dehydrating. When in doubt, have a glass of water!

Turn up the heat

A cold room tells your body that it’s time to go to sleep. Throw on a sweater or turn up the heat to boost energy when you start feeling drowsy.

Get interested

Schedule an interesting task or activity when your energy level droops, usually around 3:00 pm. Studies show that boring tasks or activities make people sleepy. The interest level in an activity was even more powerful than the temperature regulation. The higher the interest, the easier it is to stay awake!

Make something beautiful

Visit your long-neglected, over-stuffed Pinterest board for inspiration, and then make something beautiful. The benefit of art therapy is well documented, boosting mood, energy level, and relieving physical pain and discomfort. Treat yourself.

Give in

It’s okay to take some time off, watching movies and sleeping in. Before the advent of the internet and jobs and family that required us to be up and active around the clock, we spent time during the winter sleeping, planning for the spring, and doing all of the inside tasks that beautiful weather let us put off. There is nothing wrong with a little winter contemplation and reflection, so if you need a day or two to rest and rejuvenate, go right ahead.

If you are one of the people diagnosed with seasonal affective disorder, all of the above suggestions are especially true for you. Other suggestions for combating SAD include light therapy and planning a vacation to somewhere warm and sunny at your region’s coldest, darkest time. Having something to look forward to can help get you through the darkest days of winter.

Need more ideas? Check out these 55 ways to increase your energy level!

Image by Rosa Dik 009– on&off via Flickr

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