At this time of year it’s common to feel lethargic and in a slump. But there are ways to beat those autumn and winter blues.
By harnessing your circadian rhythm – your internal body clock – you can help maximise your energy during the day and make sure you get a peaceful night’s sleep. Here, our experts tell us how to do it hour by hour…
7am: Set your alarm
“Our sleep/wake cycle is very finely tuned to waking up when the sun rises and going to sleep at a similar time every night,” says Jo Webber from Pukka Herbs (pukkaherbs.com).
“Wake up around the same time each day, ideally by 7am, even if you’ve had a later night than desired.”
7:30am: Go for a walk
Not only does morning exercise kickstart the metabolism, but daylight helps regulate our body clocks. And that is especially important in autumn and winter.
“Getting out for a walk before noon is important to maintain healthy sleep patterns,” says personal trainer Aaron Brown (ultimateperformance.com).
“Light exposure triggers the body clock to send messages around the body.
“It tells cells and organs what time of day it is and how to best optimise their functions.”
TOP TIP Let there be light. If you work shifts or wake up in the dark, invest in a lightbox and switch it on
for 30 to 90 minutes in the morning.
8am: Eat breakfast
“When we eat it fuels blood glucose, which means we’ve got energy for the day,” says biohacker Tim Gray, (summit.healthoptimisation.com). However, it is important to eat foods that provide slow-release energy.
So avoid pastries and sugary breakfast cereal. Tuck in to sugar-free peanut butter and banana
on wholemeal toast instead.
9am: Tackle tricky tasks
Forget scrolling through emails. The start of the day is the best time to tackle something new
or difficult. “Your ability to do complex cognitive tasks peaks during the morning,” says sports psychologist Dr Josephine Perry (performance inmind.co.uk).
“Aim to learn new skills or techniques at this time. For most people, their peak is around 9am.”
9:45am: Have a coffee
As well as boosting alertness, this hot beverage is packed with healthy antioxidants. But the best time to drink it is in the morning.
Tim says: “Enjoy coffee before midday. The half-life of caffeine is around six hours, which means if you drink a cup at 9.45am, it will still be at half strength at 3.45pm.”
Drinking coffee after midday can mean you get less deep and rapid eye movement (REM) sleep.
1pm: Time for lunch
Based on our ancestors’ habits, we should graze on food during daylight hours to keep energy levels high.
Tim’s advice is: “Continue eating or snacking throughout the day until sunset.”
And you should make sure you have a satisfying lunch with a balance of protein, carbohydrates and vegetables, to fuel you during the afternoon.
2pm: Take a nap
Feeling sleepy after lunch? You’re not alone.
“Our circadian rhythms have two dips – a big one at night and a smaller one at around 2pm,” says Dr Chris Dickson from Cambridge Sleep Sciences (cambridgesleep sciences.com).
So rather than making an extra-strong coffee, try a siesta.
Jo Webber says: “A nap of 10 to 30 minutes improves alertness and has been shown to reduce blood pressure.”
3pm: Count your yawns
Notice when you yawn during the afternoon.
“You should spot that yawns are about 90 minutes apart. These are your energy troughs – 45 minutes later you should feel more awake again,” says Dr Perry. “Once you know your cycle, you can schedule in the tough stuff during energy peaks.”
5:30pm: Get moving
Exercise can boost our mood and help us feel more alert. Dr Perry says: “Most of us have a physical peak at 6pm, which may explain why more records are broken in the evening than during the day.”
“Your ability peaks later in the day, so aim to do endurance or fitness work in the evening.”
TOP TIP Evening exercise will use up any excess adrenaline in your system ensuring a good night’s sleep.
6:30pm: Dinner time
As the nights draw in, try to sit down to dinner before sunset.
“If you eat after sunset your body produces less insulin,” says Tim.
“This means your blood sugar is higher through the night and you store the sugar as fat, as opposed to using the energy from the food you’ve eaten during the day.”
10pm: Switch off
“Blue light is prominent in sunrise, which is why we wake up when we have blue light on our skin or in our eyes,” says Tim.
“But blue light stops the production of melatonin – the hormone which sends us to sleep – making it harder to drop off.” So turn off those screens at least an hour before you get into bed.
11pm: Go to sleep
Dr Dickson says: “Sleep is incredibly important for our health and our wellbeing, with many major illnesses being linked to poor quality slumber.
“However, if we work with our body’s natural sleep cycles, we can improve shut-eye.
“We need to sleep for seven to nine hours to complete five sleep cycles and get a really good night’s rest.”
TOP TIP Avoid excess alcohol before bed and try to make sure you sleep in a cool, dark and quiet room.