The winter solstice marks the shortest day and longest night of the year. So, if you’ve been struggling to adjust without Daylight Saving Time, just know that there is light at the end of the tunnel (literally). After the solstice, days will slowly become longer as it gets closer to spring.
In 2018, the winter solstice falls on Friday, December 21 in the mid-afternoon/early evening for everyone in the Northern Hemisphere.1 But what does more darkness and less light mean for your body? Here’s how this yearly change might affect your health and how you feel.
You may feel extra tired.
The winter solstice’s shorter day and longer night might interfere with your natural circadian rhythm, the 24-hour cycle that helps regulate your body’s physical, mental and behavioral changes.2 This cycle runs parallel to the 12 hours of light and 12 hours of darkness in a typical day and night. But with less light and more darkness, your body may feel more sluggish than usual.
Low levels of vitamin D could also be to blame. According to Harvard Health, people who have a body mass index (BMI) higher than 30, may have low levels of vitamin D.3 This is because vitamin D is stored in fat and when it’s not circulating through the bloodstream, it can’t be used as effectively by the body.3 Click here to find out if your BMI falls within a healthy range.
Here’s what could help: Sunlight might not provide the amount of vitamin D you need, since the sun’s rays during the winter aren’t as strong.4 Ask your doctor about taking a supplement or adding vitamin D-rich foods to your meals, like salmon, eggs and mushrooms.5
You might feel moody.
Like its name suggests, seasonal affective disorder (SAD), can make people feel lethargic, tired and gloomy and its effects usually correspond with the change in seasons. Overeating, weight gain and craving carbohydrates are also symptoms of the winter pattern of SAD, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.6
SAD is a form of depression that often affects people before and after the winter solstice, from December through February.7 Normally, your circadian rhythm syncs with the day-to-night changes that occur throughout the seasons. But people with SAD experience the change in daylight hours differently, which makes it difficult for their bodies to adjust.7
Make sure to speak with your doctor if you experience any symptoms of SAD or notice anything out of the ordinary during the winter season.
Here’s what could help: If you think you may be experiencing symptoms of SAD, talk to your doctor. He or she may recommend medication, light therapy, and/or vitamin D supplements to help you feel better.6 If you’re craving carbohydrates, try swapping the refined variety for these healthier alternatives instead.
You might lose motivation.
Longer evenings and chilly nights make it much easier to think about snuggling up under a blanket than working out. In a 2013 survey of 502 adults in the U.S., nearly 44 percent of participants said they would put off exercising in the winter.8 And when the temperature dropped below 60 degrees, participants were also less likely to exercise.8
Here’s what could help: Schedule a workout class or plan to meet a friend at the gym in advance, so you’ll be more likely to show up. Or, try different exercises indoors to heat things up when it’s too cold outside. If you’re starting to add new activities into your day, check out our Beginner’s Guide to Exercise for helpful tips!
You may be more productive.
The darker, colder days leading up to the winter solstice do have their benefits. A 2014 study showed that people, when assigned indoor work, were more likely to be distracted by thoughts of their favorite outdoor activities if the weather was fair. Less pleasant weather resulted in better performance.9
Here’s what could help: Make the most of your productivity boost by doing the hardest work later in the morning, the time when researchers say your alertness and concentration are at their best.10 In the evenings, give your creative thoughts another shot. Open-ended problems may be easier to solve when you’re tired. Fatigue may allow your mind to wander and explore new possibilities, one study suggests.10
Although the cold weather and dark nights around winter solstice may make it feel challenging to focus on your health goals, (especially when the couch is calling your name), know that you can still stay on track by getting your daily dose of vitamin D, getting your activity in and eating healthy foods.
Need a little extra motivation to get back into a healthy routine? We’d love to help! With personalized, dedicated support and delicious chef-crafted meals, Jenny Craig’s Rapid Results is a science-based program designed to promote weight loss and work with your natural circadian rhythm. Contact a consultant to book your free appointment today.
Stephanie Eng-Aponte is a copywriter for Jenny Craig, based in Carlsbad, CA. They’ve focused on writing within the health and wellness space for the last several years, but have dabbled in the tech and environmental industries. Stephanie graduated from Rutgers University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Journalism and Media Studies. Stephanie employs a “eat first, write later” approach to food blogging and enjoys the occasional Oxford comma. Outside of writing, you can find Stephanie photographing a muttley crew of rescue pups, brewing kombucha, or exploring San Diego.
Favorite healthy snack: Green apple slices with sunflower butter.
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