Ways to Live in Sync With the Winter Season
Less daylight and lower temperatures in the winter can sap our energy and make life more challenging. Days are shorter and colder, forcing us to contend with discomfort and work harder to rouse ourselves. Here are some strategies for making the most of the season, rather than wishing spring had already sprung.
Reframe the season as cozy
Daylight may be sparse and the weather at times bitter-cold—negatives for many of us. However, these conditions provide an opportunity to take refuge in our homes. Find inspiration from the Swedish and embrace the principles of hygge (meaning coziness), appreciating the warmth inside.
Arrange soft, thick throws on your bed and couches, place a basket of pinecones on your living room table, and pile logs up next to your fireplace. Set a pot with a fresh rosemary plant on your kitchen table and inhale the invigorating scent every time you enter the room. Sip mulled wine, apple cider, or tea as you finally tackle your reading list—without any guilt or FOMO.
Seek out light
Many people experience seasonal affective disorder (SAD) when the days become shorter. In the winter months, they might feel chronically sad, tired, or agitated, and struggle to focus. According to an article in Sleep Medicine Clinics, one solution is exposure to bright light in the morning1, whether by venturing outside or sitting in front of a light box. To help your circadian rhythms sync up with the time, sip your coffee or tea in nature.
If you have time for a walk, stroll the neighborhood or go for a run during lunch. By exercising and spending time outside, you’ll be engaging in two activities believed to improve sleep. Also consider adding weight-training to your routine. A research review concluded that regular resistance exercise improves all aspects of sleep plus improves anxiety and depression2.
Nourish yourself socially by making plans with family and friends, volunteering, or joining local clubs or organizations. By filling your calendar with get-togethers featuring people and causes you care about, you can infuse the season with joy and meaning. At the same time, don’t feel you have to say “yes” to every invitation, especially around the holidays. Choose the events that will energize and enrich you.
Score some squash
Lower winter temperatures mean our bodies could use a bit more insulation when it comes to body fat. To keep ourselves warm while savoring seasonal produce, seek out winter squash, which is rich in healthy carbohydrates. Unlike summer squash, this family of produce must be cooked. Try the whole range, from savory spaghetti squash to sweet Delicata or butternut squash.
After roasting spaghetti squash, use a fork to scrape “noodles,” then use as a bed for any type of pasta sauce. Once you’ve roasted, boiled, or steamed Delicata or butternut squash, puree with stock or a bit of olive oil for a soup or side. Fresh sage leaves, Parmesan cheese, orange juice, and black pepper mesh well with its sugary, nutty flavors.
Eat to boost immunity
To fight off infections common during this time of year (like the flu), load up on immunity-boosting foods. Think vitamin C-rich citrus fruit, whether a grapefruit half at breakfast; tangerine afternoon snack; or lemon marinade for dinner-time chicken.
Begin savory dishes (especially stir-fries) with a saute of minced garlic and ginger. Then, relax at the end of the day with a warm mug of turmeric tea, made with boiling water, fresh turmeric root, some citrus juice, a hint of black pepper, and a spot of honey.
Be careful with caffeine
Coffee is a stimulant, potentially making it harder to fall and remain asleep if you drink it too late in the day. As an alternative to coffee, consider matcha, Japanese green tea made with ground-up tea leaves. Rich in antioxidants and amino acids, matcha can supply energy without a side of the jitters some experience with coffee. Either way, try to have your last cup at least six hours before you plan to go to bed.
Make falling and remaining asleep easier by setting yourself up for success. Stick to a set bedtime and wake-up time each day, even on the weekends. A couple of hours before going to bed, begin winding down with lowered light and soothing rituals. Think: a warm bath, breathing ritual, or catch-up call with a dear friend. Then, use a sound machine or wear ear plugs to prevent errant sounds from waking you up too early.
1 Lewy, A.J. et al. (2009). [Winter depression and circadian rhythms]. HHS Author Manuscripts, PubMed Central
2 Kovacevic, A. et al (2018). [Study on sleep and exercise]. Sleep Medicine Reviews, PubMed.gov
[Winter, sleep and circadian rhythms]. (2012). Sleepeducation.org
Zorfass, N. (2021). [Circadian rhythms in winter]. integrativenutrition.com