Earlier this week, I discussed how some humans enter into a kind of metabolic “hibernation” following the fall equinox in the northern hemisphere.
But as we move into these darker days and longer nights, many may also experience disruptions to their circadian rhythms (or sleep-wake cycles) and mood. As a result, they may find themselves sleepy, lethargic, or even depressed during the day.
Fortunately, there are five simple steps you can take, starting today, to help your body, mind, and spirit adjust to these seasonal changes. And I’ll tell you all about them in just a moment.
But first, let’s back up to talk about how the human body naturally adjusts to the Earth’s shift between lighter and darker days…
Circadian rhythm affects many biological processes
Through millions of years, a natural, circadian rhythm developed that relates directly to the rotation of the Earth on its axis. So, when the Earth faces the sun, the body naturally wakes for the day. And when the Earth faces away from the sun, the body naturally winds down and goes to sleep.
The circadian rhythm also regulates many important biological processes in humans, including:
- Body temperature
- Cellular metabolism
- Energy levels
- Hormone production
- Insulin production
Of course, thanks to our modern technology, we now have 24-hour, unlimited access to darkened, indoor bars and restaurants, entertainment, gyms, and even workplaces. But when we engage in these activities around the clock…and flout our natural, circadian rhythm…our health suffers tremendously.
That’s why, as the ancient medical traditions of India and China taught, it’s important to make some adjustments in your daily diet and general habits to help cope with these inveterate seasonal changes.
Five tips for coping with the darkness of fall
As we prepare for the shorter days and longer nights of fall, here are five tips for naturally helping your body, mind, and spirit adjust:
1.) Spend more time in Nature. During autumn, try to spend as much time as you can outside in Nature during the day. Because, even though the sun is no longer strong enough to trigger natural vitamin D production in your skin, simply getting some exposure to natural sunlight during waking hours will help you adjust to the shorter days and longer nights.
I also advise you to take time to observe the signs of impending dormancy all around you. For example, in the New England woods where I grew up, the deciduous trees have already begun to lose their green chlorophyll, leaving behind the brilliant colors of red, orange, and yellow carotenoid plant pigments.
You can also note all the profound changes in feeding, hunting, mating, and migration exhibited by wildlife.
Likewise, pay attention to how your body feels at this time of year. And when your body tells you it’s time to sleep, listen to it. You may find yourself nodding off earlier than usual!
2.) Keep the lights low in the evening. As darkness begins to descend earlier and earlier, you may feel tempted to turn on every light in the house come dinnertime. But I advise against it. In fact, try to limit your exposure to artificial light—and especially blue light—in the evenings.
For one, the blue light emitted by LED bulbs and personal devices generates more reactive oxygen species (ROS), which—much like the ionizing radiation used in x-rays—damage cells and DNA. According to many studies, this brighter, shorter-wave blue light disrupts melatonin production and circadian rhythm, which can lead to poor sleep as well as to cancer, depression, obesity, and other problems.
Plus, even though it can be tempting to ignore these strong seasonal changes, especially in our modern era of artificial lighting and 24/7 connections to electronic stimuli, the cosmos is telling us differently.
So, pay attention to these natural changes. Turn off devices and TVs in your home at least two hours before bed to avoid exposure to blue light. And use dimmers on “old-fashioned,” incandescent lighting at night. Or better yet, light a candle!
3.) Gratefully embrace life’s changing seasons. It’s natural for your mood to take a little dip as the days grow shorter and darker. But I suggest gratefully embracing life’s changing seasons, as gratitude is one of our healthiest feelings. And, as the Classical Roman statesman, Cicero, said, “gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all the others.”
I even suggest making a daily list of things for which you’re grateful. Seeing it on paper can give your mood a positive anchor. And it can also provide a sense of real progress through life’s challenges and obligations.
4.) Keep up with your vitamin D regimen. As I mentioned earlier this week, now that we’re moving into fall and winter, it’s more important than ever to keep up on your vitamin D regimen. As always, I advise you take 250 mcg (10,000 IU) of vitamin D daily. You can now find it in a liquid formula together with the potent, vision-boosting marine carotenoid astaxanthin. (You can read more about the combined benefits of these nutrients on my website.)
5.) Try aromatherapy. The ancient practice of aromatherapy has been effectively used for thousands of years to treat various ailments—including depression, high blood pressure, and migraines. And it’s finally starting to get the attention it deserves from the scientific community. Especially when it comes to treating insomnia.
The practice involves applying essential plant oils (the same kinds of oils used to make fragrances) directly to your skin or inhaling them through a mist diffuser.
If you choose to apply them directly to your skin, simply mix a few drops with a carrier oil and dab at these spots:
- under your nose
- on the sides of your nose
- under your chin
- at the base your ear lobes
- under your jaw
And as I often report, research shows these plant oils are the most effective for supporting sleep:
I personally like to topically apply the right doses of a combination of all of these oils, blended with vitamin E in organic coconut and eucalyptus oil, shortly before, or right at, bedtime. You can also apply them any time during the day to promote calm and relaxation! (Try doing that with a pill or a pillow.)
To learn more about how to combat these seasonal changes and stay on top of your mental and physical health, check out the September issue of my monthly newsletter, Insiders’ Cures (“Beat the autumn blues with this nutrient duo!”). If you’re not yet a subscriber, now is the perfect time to become one!