Since Daylight Saving Time ended in November, you may have noticed that the darker days made you feel more lethargic. That's because when the sun sets, your body begins to produce more of the sleep hormone, melatonin, which preps your body and brain for sleep.
Here are some ways to handle the early-evening melancholy you may experience this winter:
Soak up some light
If you're not getting outside due to a busy schedule, you might be missing out on crucial mood-boosting vitamin D. This vitamin is produced in our bodies when we absorb UVB rays from the sun. Not getting enough vitamin D can make you feel low-energy and even a little bummed out. Set a reminder in your daily calendar to get out for a midday walk in the sun.
Depending on how much the lack of sunlight affects your mood, you might want to invest in a light therapy box. Research has found that light therapy can be as effective as antidepressant medication when it comes to treating patients suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).
To get the benefits of light therapy, sit close to a special light box for 30 minutes a day, usually soon after you wake up. You can use this time to sit and read near the light in order to reap its benefits. You might also want to have your doctor check your vitamin D levels.
Seek some natural energy
We know that when the 4 o'clock slump rolls around, many people seek out a java break in order to charge through the remainder of the day. That's not a great idea because caffeine still affects your system for 4-6 hours or longer, according the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. And that's just the half-life -- the total amount of caffeine can stay in your body for much longer, depending on your age, height and weight.
Instead, consider drinking more water, eating healthy snacks, and giving yourself regular breaks in the day to reboot your system every few hours.
Shine a little light on your day
You'll find that getting light exposure earlier in the day can help alleviate that midday slump you're feeling. See if it's possible to work by a window so you're getting more exposure to sunlight—even while you're cranking on work deadlines.
Make sure you drink plenty of water during the winter months. It'll help prevent dry skin and you'll feel more energized. Dehydration shows up as feelings of tiredness and hunger. Grab a bottle of water to feel more alert and you'll be more likely to avoid the sugary vending machine snacks you may normally seek out for a boost.
You might even want to try a five-minute meditation using a smartphone app to clear your mind and feel relaxed. (We also recommend combining meditation with a vibrating pain relief mask to amp up the effects.)
Shut down phones and electronics
In our world of constantly-connected tech, we recognize that this one is much easier said than done. Since your body requires darkness in order to produce more melatonin, reducing exposure to electronics that emit blue-wave light is important in order to help you fall asleep -- and stay asleep.
Sleep experts recommend shutting down electronics at least two hours before bedtime. You should also change your smartphones and tablets to "night" mode in the evening so you're not absorbing these sneaky blue lights.
Finally, it couldn't hurt to slip on an FSA-eligible lavender-scented sleep mask before bed to block out any environmental light and help you relax so you can fall asleep faster.
Stick to a sleep schedule—even on the weekends
If you haven't logged enough hours of sleep during the week, you might try to make up for this "sleep debt" by sleeping in on the weekend. The problem is, you can't make up for the hours you lost, and now you're throwing off your body's natural sleep and waking times.
Sleep experts suggest keeping your daily sleeping and waking schedule as regular as possible so as to prevent throwing your body "out of whack." If you find that you experience occasional sleeplessness, you might benefit from taking a natural melatonin supplement to help your body fall asleep faster.