11/13/2013 12:18 EST | Updated 01/23/2014 06:58 EST

How to Keep Energized as the Seasons Change

Were you happy to get that extra sleep with Daylight Savings Time, only to find yourself feeling sluggish for weeks after? You're not alone. Changing clocks, either for travel or seasonal changes, shifts our circadian rhythm -- the principal time cue of light which sets our natural cycle for sleep. As such, not all of us adapt well.

Here's a deeper look at how time changes not only impact our sleeping cycles but also our meal and activity plans.

Why sleep is so important to good health

Similar to the importance of energy balance, a good night's sleep is essential for optimum health and to support the body's defenses against infection and chronic illness including heart disease. In the Fall, only a minority of people actually get that promised extra hour of sleep. During the following week, many people wake up earlier, have more trouble falling asleep, and are more likely to wake up during the night. People who sleep under seven and a half hours a night and early risers usually have the most trouble adjusting to the new timetable.

Although the mornings are brighter, most North Americans will now start to leave work in total darkness. This lack of light can impact our ability to sleep and can set the stage for Seasonal Affected Disorder (SAD), a form of clinical depression. Even though SAD affects only about five per cent of the North American population, Michael Terman, Ph.D., the author of the book Reset Your Inner Clock and a professor of psychiatry at Columbia University, identifies you can experience the "winter blues," or feelings of exhaustion, sluggishness and sadness as we approach the shorter days of winter. The fix, he notes, is light therapy, or light boxes applied at a certain time in the morning to stop the production of melatonin and wake up the inner clock.

How to ease the seasonal transition

Regular activity and a healthy diet can assist you in seasonal transitioning. If you're getting eight hours of sound sleep and have a consistent sleep pattern, you should wake up feeling refreshed and energized.

As the cooler weather and shorter days roll in, it may be tempting to stay indoors. However keeping active outdoors will give you more energy and help you stay on track with your fitness strategy. Bundle up, get outside and start with some low-intensity exercises. I recommend clients invest in a warm coat and a good pair of shoes, next start with brisk walks in the daylight over the lunch hour. Not only do they get the benefits of fresh air, they also get the necessary exposure to light.

To stay motivated with your healthy eating strategy I recommend the following tips:

  • Write down your goals and re-read them regularly. Keep your goals in a place where you'll see them often, such as your computer screen, fridge or right on your phone.
  • Practice moderation by giving yourself permission to have your favourite foods and beverages. Love desserts? Ask for a smaller size or split it with a friend. If your indulgences are specialty coffees or soda pop, opt for the smaller sizes such as a mini-can of Coke, which has 100 calories per serving.
  • Reward yourself. Did you reach a fitness goal that you've been working toward for weeks or months? Did you stick to a healthy diet and reach a target weight? If so, reward yourself with favourite activities, such as a massage or day at the spa. Treating yourself for reaching a goal will also help keep you motivated and fight the "winter blues," as well.

The bottom line to combat any wintertime sluggishness and to stay energized is to remember these four simple steps of:

  1. Getting enough light;
  2. Enjoying a good night's rest;
  3. Engaging in regular activity; and
  4. Staying motivated with a healthy eating plan.

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