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Feeling Sluggish in the Winter? Here Are 10 Things To Help Stay Awake and Happy


I ran into a neighbor the other morning, as I was walking in after walking my dog and she was just walking out with hers.


“You look so refreshed!” she said, “Not like me, I can’t seem to wake up.”


Then we went on to talk about how cold it was (in the 20s, which is unusual here).  She said, “Well, is it always like this in the winter?  I mean it’s not raining!”  Ah, I remembered.  She is new to Seattle.


“Not always this cold, but it is this grey.  It’s not really the rain you have to worry about, it’s they grey.”


“Ah,” she said, clearly beginning to understand.  And we parted ways.


It dawned on my when I got back to my apartment that I hadn’t told her the tricks I’ve learned to stay happy and healthy over the winter.  Whoops!  I looked for her as I went back out for my walk to work, but she was gone.


Well!  Here is what I would have said had my brain not been so frozen that morning…


Ten Ways To Help Stay Awake and Happy in the Winter


1.  Take Vitamin D supplements. You get Vitamin D from the sun (UVB), so when there isn’t any sun, or when you always wear sunscreen, you can very quickly become D deficient.  It’s now standard practice for nearly all doctors in the Northwest to recommend D supplements.  D deficiencies can lead to MS, TB, fatigue, depression, seasonal affective disorder (go figure), osteoporosis (D helps regulate calcium), diabetes, liver, and kidney disorders.  I take 2,000 IU/day – my doctor told me to take 1,000 at minimum.


2.  Make sure you go outside in a sunny part of the day for at least an hour every day.


3.  If you can’t do #2, or if that isn’t enough light, use a light made for light therapy.  These are bright full-spectrum lights (usually 8,000-10,000 lux), and you sit within a foot of it, so that your eye catches the light indirectly, for 30-60 minutes per day usually (this is easy to do at work).  Which part of the day you use it depends on your current sleep/fatigue schedule – some lights come with instructions.  Your doctor can provide further information.


4.  Stay on a regular sleep schedule.  Go to bed at the same time, and get up at the same time.  Let your body stay on regular circadian rhythms.


5.  Drink caffeine in the morning, but don’t drink it past about 2pm. I know it sounds crazy, but it makes a huge difference.  For me this is especially true with coffee – whereas green tea seems to be ok.


6.  Don’t drink more than one drink at night before bed. Counterintuitive, but you actually sleep more soundly when you’re not under the influence of alcohol.


7.  Eat four small, protein-rich meals per day. We often crave more carbs in the winter – resist the urge, as they can make us feel lethargic.  Eat whole grains rather than refined flours, stay away from the sugars, and so on.


8.  Exercise regularly. It’s more difficult to keep up our exercise routines in the winter, but of course we will feel lethargic if we aren’t getting our blood pumping and muscles flexed!  Find an exercise buddy, make it a part of your daily routine, and just do it.


9.  Do things that make you happy – on a regular schedule. Matt and I have to make ourselves go out every weekend, because our desire to hibernate is so strong in the winter.  But once we get out there, we never regret it!  Go to an outdoor museum, walk through the paths at your local wetlands, do something fun outside if you can.  If you just can’t go outside due to the weather, go somewhere stimulating, with lots of windows – or even take a train ride across town.  And at night, watch happy movies, read happy books, and play happy games with the family!


10.  If you are more than mildly depressed, however, do consult a doctor right away. There may be easy remedies he or she can provide.


How do I know?  Years, and years, and years of living in the Pacific Northwest with seasonal dysphoria.  Factors that may increase your risk of SAD (according to the Mayo Clinic):  being female, living far from the equator, and family history.  Check, check, and check for me!


I know I’m not alone in feeling the blues over the winter.  Anyone else have suggestions to add?


Cheer up!  Spring will be here in no time!

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16 comments to Feeling Sluggish in the Winter? Here Are 10 Things To Help Stay Awake and Happy

  • One of my favorite winter reprieves is to visit a greenhouse at a local college for humidity, warmth, and the smell of dirt. Sit there with a book for a bit and pretend it’s summer.

  • Thanks for the list. I think I’m going to try taking vitamin D and see if that helps.

  • I started growing some basil seeds this week… I miss my garden… so I decided to try and grow something indoors this winter :)

  • I agree with all of these. I have a routine of things that help me as well.

    Since I work from home I take a break every afternoon for a walk. I drink one cup of coffee in the morning and one in the afternoon, usually before 3.

    I do take vitamin D3 supplement, although soon I’m switching to fermented cod liver oil instead.

    I also use melatonin to help maintain a regular sleep schedule. I always find I have difficulty falling asleep starting Sept when the days get shorter. Melatonin drops are wonderful, I sleep well and wake up feeling refreshed.

    I also sit in the sun in the living room whenever it’s out. The cats have the right idea, they bask in it whenever it’s out and follow it around the room. I’ve heard that getting sun on your eyelids really helps. I also quit wearing sunscreen in the winter, I find I’m not out enough and when I am I want to be getting all the vitamin D I can.

  • Eva

    Great insights, Melinda, thanks for sharing! We’re also planning to try Bikram yoga this week…we’ve heard such rave reviews from so many warmth-hungry Seattle-ites that it’s time to check it out.

  • It’s funny but I much prefer our warmer gray days to the below freezing sunny weather. More can be done in the garden!

    I think the other problem with this time of year is that we over-commit our time with holiday events. I’m much happier if I maintain a pretty consistent social life or if I take some time off work so that I can have some down time.

  • [...] everyone.  Hope you’re having a lovely start of the week, and that my “feeling sluggish” post helped a [...]

  • AmyD

    I know that many vitamins are poorly absorbed unless in the correct formulation. Does anyone have any info on this, or recommendations for a reliable brand?

    Vit D also appears to correlate with resistance to upper respiratory infections. I know that increasing the humidity in the home, during the heating months, helps reduce the drying of the mucus membranes. The dry air creates minute cracks that allow viruses entry.

    It took me years to figure out that I had SAD, and that following many of Melinda’s suggestions, did give me a measure of control (and understanding of what was going on)! Glad to find a few more suggested measures to utilize!!

    Cotati, CA

  • Another trick some freinds of mine do is they have a flourescent light- and put full spectrum tubes in it- Me not having winter weather disorder- I just make sure to take Romeo for his walk every day and eat peanut butter toast!

  • [...] Feeling Sluggish in the Winter? Here Are 10 Things To Help Stay … [...]

  • Great ideas. It really is important to spend time outside in the winter (even if it’s overcast, it’s much brighter than it is inside). The picture of crocuses you have with the post reminded me of how much I love having spring bulbs blooming inside during the winter. @Lise, I love the greenhouse idea.

  • Kay

    I swear by St. John’s Wort, especially living in Michigan where spring seems to be here and gone in a blink of an eye and winter lasts 6 months (it seems). I like to take it with my cup of morning tea (usually yerba mate) and then get my yoga done (about an hour) and then jump in the shower. By the time I’m out I’m ready to take on the world!

  • I wonder how cutting out caffeine after 2pm makes a difference? I don’t drink coffee but I do drink Diet Coke with caffeine. I figured I’d be even more tied without the caffeine. Hmmm…

  • Suzan Cregan

    Since i generally imagined to come up with for my blog a little something comparable yours somehow you have produced a certain amount of very good details there. I probably did browse over among the subject usually realized almost any folks should certainly agree through your trusty weblog.Great post!

  • Bell

    I think I’ll try some of these. I haven’t been awake for more then 10 hours a day since thanksgiving. I’m without a job currently so I don’t get out of the house daily as often anymore. Well at least I know why all I want to eat is pasta and bread now! Awesome blog by the one, starting reading it this morning :)

  • Bell

    Oops that should of said way not one

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