Why you feel so tired as the weather gets colder and the mornings get darker

Summer passed by in a flash while we were pretty much stuck indoors (apart from our state sanctioned walks and picnics) and it’s officially almost Halloween.

While that means pumpkins and mulled wine and hearty slow-cooked dinners, it also means a slump in energy that comes with colder weather and darker mornings and evenings.

If you’ve found that you’re struggling to wake up in the mornings recently, you’re certainly not alone.

According to research by The Weather Channel and YouGov, 57% of adults say their overall mood is worse in Winter compared to summer, and 40% of people suffer from fatigue during this period.

One third of the population also reports symptoms of SAD (seasonal affective disorder), with these ranging from low energy levels to low self-esteem and anxiety.

Babylon Health GP, Dr Claudia tells Metro.co.uk that it’s all to do with lack of light: ‘Our brains, neurotransmitters and hormones are affected by the amount of sunlight we are exposed to.

‘A lack of sunlight knocks our internal body clock off kilter, making us feel more tired earlier in the day. Reduced sunlight also causes a drop in serotonin, a neurotransmitter that is involved in (amongst many other things) mood, digestion and sleep.

‘On top of that, melatonin (a hormone that helps to regulate your sleep-wake cycle) is also affected, further contributing to sleep and mood problems.’

While we could always wait for Spring to roll around, that feels like a long way off – and doesn’t stop you struggling to get through the working day in the meantime.

Dr Claudia recommends the following things to help perk you up and stave off the sluggishness until sunshine comes back into our lives.

Up your sun exposure

‘Try and get as much sunlight as possible. Going for a walk in the middle of the day can help,’ says Dr Claudia.

Sunlight plays an important role in our circadian rhythm, which tells our body the difference between day and night time.

Or, as The Sleep Foundation describes it: ‘Sunlight detected by cells in the retina of the eye sends messages to the brain that keep us in a roughly 24-hour pattern.

‘These light cues trigger all kinds of chemical events in the body, causing changes in our physiology and behaviour.

‘For example, as evening approaches and the light in our environment dwindles, the hormone melatonin begins to rise and body temperature falls—both of which help us to become less alert and more likely to welcome sleep.

‘With the help of morning light, melatonin levels are low, body temperature begins to rise, and other chemical shifts, such as an uptick in the activating hormone cortisol, occur to help us feel alert and ready for the day.’

Eat well

Dr Claudia says: ‘Yes, it might seem like boring advice, but aim to eat a healthy balanced diet, with fruit, vegetables and nuts as snacks. It really does help.’

Nutritionist Donia Hilal from Personalised.co, adds that ensuring your first meal of the day is balanced is also key to ensuring you feel energised during the day.

She says: ‘Some people prefer to start their morning off light and fresh without breakfast, which is totally fine. If you prefer having a hearty breakfast filled with nutrients to get you going for the day, then ensure you are eating a source of healthy carbohydrates, protein or healthy fats for energy.

‘This could be carbohydrates such as oats, protein such as eggs, or healthy fats for brain power such as unsalted nut butters.’

Stay social

Keeping to a regular routine stops the days feeling monotonous, which can boost our energy levels and mood.

‘Although it is tempting to hide away, staying social (even if we’re not seeing each other much in person nowadays) will be good for your mood.’ says Dr Claudia.

‘Set up a few regular phone or video calls with friends and family.’


Studies show that regular exercise can reduce insomnia and help people sleep better.

Results don’t take long to show either. Getting 30 minutes of exercise in a day – and this can be walking, jogging, or anything else considered ‘moderately aerobic’ – should see you sleeping better that very night.

Physical activity also releases a number of hormones into your brain like dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin. These play an important role in regulating mood, and exercise will also give you a sense of routine and accomplishment in these dark days.

Consider a light box

Dr Claudia adds: ‘Although the evidence isn’t strong, research does show that exposure to light treatment (sitting or working near a special SAD lamp) might be helpful.

‘If you do want to buy a SAD lamp, make sure it is clinically approved and take care to read around the potential side effects (such as headaches, blurred vision and eye strain) and contraindications (skin that is sensitive to light, certain medications and eye conditions).

‘You can find NHS information about light boxes here.’

If you imagine how low you can already feel in Winter, coupled with the global pandemic raging on around us, it’s completely understandable that you may be struggling.

Making small changes to keep your mind and body healthy can keep you ticking over through the colder months, but if you’re concerned about your mental health you should visit your GP.

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