Winter fatigue

Illustration by Ed Appleby
Illustration by Ed Appleby

Why winter can wear us out

By Benjamin Howard, Columnist

I’m not exactly a “morning person.” The unfortunate daily chore of lugging myself out of bed becomes all the more difficult in the winter. In winter, when I wake up, my eyes tell me it’s nighttime, and my brain tells me that if I step out of bed, I’ll freeze. That’s when the sheets start to feel less like fabric and more like mail: heavy and protective. It’s a harsh drain on my willpower to throw off those sheets, let me tell you, but reluctance to rise aside, I’m also more tired overall in the colder months—but why? At winter’s darkest the sun rises at around eight a.m. and sets at four p.m. That’s only eight hours of sunshine in total. The weather can often be quite dreary as well during winter, limiting sunlight even more. When it’s dark out, the body produces the hormone melatonin, or the “sleepy hormone”; so naturally, when I wake before the sun’s risen and stay up long after its set, I’m more tired than in any other season.

Now that we understand better, how can we fight the fatigue? Most of this advice is pretty common sense, the first piece being to sleep well. We should get eight hours of sleep per night. And I know what some of you are thinking, “I’ll sleep even more than eight hours; that way, I’ll be even more energetic!” Wrong! From what I’ve read, this seemingly sensible plan to sleep more will backfire. The body’s biological clock regulates energy usage. If you rest and wake at the same times every day (and for the recommended eight hours), your biological clock will know when it needs to replenish energy; the opposite is true when you oversleep.

Another solution to this darkness-induced fatigue is to let in as much light as possible—open up all the curtains, and turn on the lights when it’s dark. The general lack of sunlight over winter also creates a lack of vitamin D in many, which causes tiredness. Therefore, eat foods that contain vitamin D, such as eggs or salmon. Other than sunlight, there are a couple environmental factors that also contribute to tiredness: humidity and temperature. My skin becomes absolutely lizard-like during the winter, and that’s because the air is very dry. Besides growing scales, the dry air affects the mucous membranes of the nose, usually causing one to instead breathe through the mouth while sleeping, which is not conducive to healthy sleep. A possible solution is to buy a humidifier, or, more frugally, to put cups of water on the radiator, thus creating vapour over time.

Speaking of radiators, if your bedroom is cold, your sleep will suffer. The ideal room temperature is 20–22 degrees Celsius, but unfortunately for me, my mom’s pretty stingy about heating at night. When I wake up in the winter time, I’m lucky if it’s 15 degrees inside. So what can I do?

For starters, a heated throw along with toasty socks and a mountain of blankets can go a long way. Those who don’t share my circumstances have their own problem to worry about: too much heat. Make sure the temperature isn’t over 22 degrees, because too much heat will cause the body to crave more sleep. Well, that about wraps it up. I wish you luck in your quest against the cold.