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Dr. Dan says seek sunlight ASAP as the days get darker

How to Avoid FALL-ing Energy Levels this Fall

It starts with having a "sleep hygiene" routine

Dr. Daniel Yadegar is a physician based in New York.

September 22, 2023 12:01 pm

So I’ve been trying to get my personal physician to be a Wondercade contributor for months — dude is amazing and really knows his stuff. Dr. Dan’s opinions are backed by science, and taking his suggestions is a no-brainer (well, I suppose it’s an all-brainer). If, as they say, an apple a day keeps the doctor away, I’d gladly stop eating apples to have this guy around. -NPH

Hi, Wondercader — Dr. Dan Yadegar here. Have you noticed that as the days get shorter, you become more tired and out of sorts? Well, there is a good reason for this: your body’s natural 24-hour wake/sleep cycle and “internal clock” — aka, your circadian rhythm — dictates a lot of the body’s physical and mental processes, including alertness, sleep, appetite, memory and body temperature…all disruptions that can sap your energy levels. As we head into the autumn and winter months, it becomes easier for that rhythm to get out of whack: less sun exposure means your body produces more melatonin and less vitamin D, leaving you sluggish and grabbing for that extra cup of joe! (Which is a bad long-term strategy — more on that later!)

So, what can we do to feel energized, rested and better balanced this time of year? The key is to maintain a healthy circadian rhythm. Here are 5 tips on how to do that:

  1. Practice good sleep hygiene. We (hopefully!) all know how to practice good hygiene habits: brushing our teeth, washing our hands, the like. Well, “sleep hygiene” refers to practicing good habits that improve our sleep…no matter the time of year. The biggie: avoid using electronics in bed. While natural sunlight is important during the daytime, the artificial “blue light” that electronics emit can be really disruptive to our sleep, especially before bed. Studies show that it can lead to all sorts of health problems beyond just energy levels, ranging from obesity to heart disease.
  2. Create a regular sleep schedule. Your body wants to stay in a rhythm, so the more consistent you are with the times you go to sleep and wake up, the more regulated your body will feel. In other words: aim to go to bed at the same time each day, and wake up at the same time each day (even on weekends). And when you wake up in the morning, step out into the sunshine as soon as you can — that’ll help your body maintain its rhythm more easily.
  3. Exercise. Believe it or not, exercising in the morning or early afternoon can help reset your circadian clock, and improve your overall level of energy during the winter months. (Research shows that nighttime exercise, however, can disrupt sleep and disrupt your internal clock.) If your exercise routine can be outdoors, this is a positive double whammy: you’re getting exercise and sunlight at the same time.
  4. Get more vitamin D. When your skin is exposed to the sun, your body produces vitamin D, which is incredibly important because it benefits sleep, focus, heart health and, of course, your energy. You should take regular walks to get adequate sun exposure during the fall and winter months, even when it is cold outside. (Bundle up; your body will thank you later!) Some people may need to add vitamin D3 supplements to get their levels in an adequate range, which can help boost energy. I typically have my patients take about 3000 to 5000 IU a day (with food) depending on how low their levels are. It’s a good idea to consult with your physician before starting any vitamins or supplements.
  5. Avoid caffeine. Let’s be realistic. None of us are giving up our morning cappuccino! Consuming small amounts of caffeine early in the day can be okay. Actually, it’s a good way to boost energy. However, having caffeine later on in the day disrupts that ever-important circadian rhythm. A good rule of thumb: your last cup of coffee should be about 10 hours before your bedtime.

While we cannot control the tilt of the earth and the number of hours of sunlight we receive during the darker months, we certainly have action items we can take to optimize our circadian rhythms, and experience a more energized and restful season.

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