Friday 16 November 2018

Fall back: How to cope when the clocks go back

As the time change signals the start of the dreaded short winter days, Tanya Sweeney looks at ways to keep the spirits high until springtime finally rolls around again

The shorter days can affect work, sleep and mood
The shorter days can affect work, sleep and mood

Tanya Sweeney

The smell of turf fires is already wafting through the streets, the nights are drawing in and the great heatwave of the summer feels like a misty, sad memory. But this weekend, winter is officially, undeniably incoming: the clocks go back on Sunday morning and it'll be time to get ready for the season that seems to last a good six months here.

Shorter days are often no one's idea of fun, but there are ways of making the following months - not to mention, losing that precious hour of sleep - seem a bit more manageable.

Bath time

Honestly, is there a worse Monday in the year than the one after the clocks go back (apart from Blue Monday, on the other side of a long winter)? This Monday is likely to feel wretched because our circadian rhythms, which manage our moods, have taken a bit of a knock on the Sunday (oftentimes, we get up as 'normal' on the Sunday, leaving us answerable to what feels like an early Monday).

For adults and children alike, delay bedtime routines for 15 minutes a few days before the clocks change (experts often recommend doing this for a few weeks beforehand - something to remember next year). Try a relaxing bath and go straight from bathroom to bedroom while bypassing the kitchen. By the time the hour moves, kids will be ready for the clock change and hopefully stay in bed until the correct wake-up time the next morning.

Sleep environment

A quick getaway to the Canaries could help ease the pain
A quick getaway to the Canaries could help ease the pain

A healthy sleep environment will also be helpful against any changes in routine, as it will promote better quality sleep year-round. Factor in plenty of 'wind-down' time, putting in place a digital sunset so that iPad, phone, computer and TV screens are off for at least an hour before bed. Dimming the lights will help aid the production of melatonin, which is essential for good sleep. Keep your bedroom cool at 18 and a half degrees, have dim light in your bedroom, and use blackout blinds if you need to. Caffeine and alcohol are also the greatest enemies of sleep. Your body clock should be back in sync within a matter of days.

Mood boosters

According to Naoise Kelly, Director of the Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, only a small proportion of the Irish population suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). "The weather affects people's moods differently," acknowledges Kelly. "Many people experience a temporary shift of energy and mood levels in either direction (seasonal lows and highs), depending on the weather."

Given that Vitamin D derived from sunshine has a direct link to serotonin levels, exposure to bright light also helps. Or, if sunshine is in scant supply, summer can be replicated thanks to technology. It is possible, for instance, to buy daylight simulation light bulbs (see sadbox.co.uk or bodykind.com for details).

"Studies show that serotonin production increases with exposure to bright light," agrees Kelly. "The causes of actual SAD are biological and its treatment may involve medication (anti-depressants), light therapy (heliotherapy), psychotherapy, or melatonin supplementation. Again it's important that there should be no self-diagnosis and if a person believes they may have SAD, they should visit their GP."

Other supplements that might be of help to thwart low moods include zinc, magnesium, Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Vitamin B12.

Vitamin Sea

A great way to combat the despair of facing into months of cold darkness is to break it up with a decent bout of 'vitamin sea'. Oftentimes circumstances, term-time and finances may not allow us to take flight for a long-haul jaunt of several weeks, but flights to parts of Spain, Morocco and the Canaries can be reasonable during low season. Keep your eyes peeled for deals online.

Hobbies

Activity, fitness and socialising can often be the first casualties of the 'hibernation' season, but swapping out your summer hobbies for a seasonal one is a great way to keep out and about. There are dozens of great winter walks that are even more spectacular and bracing in the winter months (try the Sugar Loaf Trail in Wicklow, the Mamore Gap in Donegal, Killary Harbour Fjord in Mayo, Dollar Bay in Wexford and the Loop Head in Clare. If things get too quiet on the social front, try your hand at any number of novel classes or hobbies. The Dublin Bar Academy run cocktail making classes, Cookes Academy in Dublin offer cheese-making workshops, while the Powerscourt Centre allows budding gardeners to wind down in a private bonsai workshop.

Embrace hygge

You might as well fully embrace 'hygge'; the Scandinavians' way of upcycling winter. Thanks to Hygge (pronounced 'heurgha'), winter became less about scraping windshields and broken boilers, and more about cashmere blankets, comfort food by the fire and a general sense of toasty, cosy calm. The fact is, the Irish have had good 'hygge' before the Danes even got to it, with our delicious turf fires, Aran jumpers and hot toddies. Even if an open fire or stove isn't within reach, some scented candles can create tons of ambiance (try the seasonal ones from Brooke & Shoals for added atmosphere).

Take in a festival

You could always get out and start as you mean to go on, giving a resounding two fingers to the whole idea of the clocks going back this weekend. There are certainly enough great Halloween events on to keep us distracted. The Cork Jazz Festival runs until October 29 in the People's Republic, or you could join 54,000 people for the Macnas Parade in Galway on October 28 - the largest free event in Ireland for the Halloween weekend.

This year sees the inaugural outing of Westival, formerly the much-loved Westport Arts Festival (running until October 29). This is a multi-venue event with a busy schedule of music, theatre, literature and visual arts events. And really, who has time to notice the sun setting at 5pm when you're having that much fun?

Irish Independent

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