How to make the most of mornings if you're struggling with the dark

·5 min read
When it's still dark out when your alarm goes off it can be incredibly difficult to drag yourself out of bed. (Getty Images)
When it's still dark out when your alarm goes off it can be incredibly difficult to drag yourself out of bed. (Getty Images)

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After a summer of disappointing weather, the clocks have already gone back and we’re hurtling at high speed towards the winter months of colder temperatures and darker days. 

Even if you are someone who relishes the crisp autumn air over a stuffy midsummer night, it can be difficult to coax yourself out of bed when the floor is freezing and the duvet is so inviting.

But with the sun currently not rising until after 7am, it is often the case that our day needs to begin before we are quite ready to: there are commutes to start, dogs to walk and school runs to do.

Read: How to get back to sleep when you wake up feeling stressed

“There’s no doubt about it, as the nights draw in and temperatures drop, people spend more time in their beds than in better weather,” says Lisa Artis, deputy CEO at The Sleep Charity, which works to help the nation sleep better. 

“It’s human nature to want to sleep in when it’s cold outside. Waking up is hard to do - especially when it’s still dark and cold outside.”

Watch: Regular 10pm bedtime linked to lower risk of heart disease

So what is the best way to encourage yourself to get up and make the most of the day rather than treating mornings as a daily endurance test?

Of course you’ll want to first make sure you are getting enough sleep; the NHS says we should be aiming to get between six and nine hours sleep every night but this obviously varies for individuals - and your personal need might change over time.

If you’re struggling to get enough shut eye, Artis advises you try to maintain good sleep hygiene - this involves avoiding large meals close to bedtime and making your bedroom a sanctuary for sleep rather than technology and work.

But even for those getting a good night’s rest it can be difficult when the alarm clock goes off. “A lack of daylight plays a factor in why we long for the comfort of our beds in winter,” says Artis. “Less sunlight means your brain produces more of the hormone, melatonin, which makes you sleepy and decreases serotonin levels which regulates your mood.”

Read: Popular mattress topper could be the key to a good night's sleep

Artis recommends starting with some basic practical steps like setting the heating to come on 30-60 minutes before you’re due to get up and opening your curtains first thing. “Natural light makes you feel more awake and signals your internal body clock to stop making melatonin,” she says. If you can’t get natural light in your room, consider a lightbox or sunshine alarm clock.

Also consider putting your alarm away from your bed so you are not tempted just to hit snooze and roll over. Artis says when we do this we aren’t actually benefiting from more sleep.

“Your brain is already in the waking up process – and you won’t get any of the deep, resting slumber. In fact, every time the alarm goes off you get an increase in cortisol which causes you to wake abruptly and send your body into ‘fight or flight’,” she says.

As well as taking these practical steps, Sophie Cliff, The Joyful Coach, recommends to her clients that they should try and change their mindset around mornings. “If you struggle with motivation, something that can really help is to set an intention the evening before.

“Think about what your morning would have to look like in order to achieve your goals - research shows that by being able to think ahead and imagine our future selves helps to boost motivation. It also means that you don't have to make any decisions while you're feeling sleepy - you can just roll through the plan.”

Cliff also suggests that you carve out some time for yourself before the day begins - even if it is only 10 minutes. “It's difficult to pull ourselves out of bed if we know we're heading straight to work, so scheduling before the day begins can transform how you feel about getting up.

“The promise of a cup of coffee and your book will feel so much more alluring than your to-do list and it means that you've experienced a little bit of joy before your day gets going,” she adds.

Once you’re up, Artis also recommends having a shower, or at least splashing your face with water, to wake you up. Alternatively going for a brisk walk in the fresh air or doing some gentle stretching. “It helps us get over feeling groggy and makes us more alert,” she says.

Rustle up a fatigue-busting breakfast, such as a big bowl of porridge, fruit and nuts, to kick-start your day. (Getty Images)
Rustle up a fatigue-busting breakfast, such as a big bowl of porridge, fruit and nuts, to kick-start your day. (Getty Images)

Make sure to factor in a “fatigue-busting breakfast” too, says Artis. “Something like low sugar cereal, yoghurt, nuts, wholegrains or lean proteins – which will set you up for the day.”

Finally Cliff suggests that for a longer-term change it can help to embrace the changing seasons rather than resisting. “Focusing on the parts that feel special - getting to watch the sunrise while you get ready for the day or being able to grab a festive coffee on the way to work - can help us to cognitively reframe our thoughts and invite more positivity and optimism into our lives.”

Artis agrees that we shouldn’t be too hard on ourselves. “The experience of staying in bed longer resting contributes to our health and wellbeing,” she says. But if you do find you are experiencing extensive lethargy, it could possibly be a sign of seasonal affective disorder (SAD) so see your GP for more information.

Watch: What is daylight saving time?

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