feeling cold and tired?

Autumnal fatigue: what is it?

There’s plenty to love about Autumn. The colours of the falling leaves, the cosy clothes and the excuse to spend more time relaxing at home. However, as the nights draw in and colder weather descends, you may simply be left feeling cold and tired. Low mood is also a common issue around this time of year.

If you’re feeling exhausted since the weather has turned, read on to discover why – and what you can do about it.

Why am I tired?

During the autumn and winter months, your brain produces more of the ‘sleep hormone’ melatonin. This is because you see less sunlight at this time of year, so your brain goes into a semi-hibernation mode.1

This might sound like something only animals do, but the human brain is governed by a light-sensitive circadian rhythm just as the animal brain is. We have evolved to feel sleepy when it’s dark and alert an awake when it’s light.

Before electric lights and central heating, people in northern Europe would naturally do less during the winter. After the autumn equinox at the end of September, crops were harvested and people would prepare for the cold season, which involved plenty of early nights.

Today, of course, your routine is likely to be the same all year round, but the lack of exposure to light and subsequent melatonin production is still making you sleepy as it did our ancestors.

Another factor for seasonal tiredness could be inactivity. Leading a sedentary life during the colder months (as a result of miserable weather and dark nights) can leave you feeling lethargic and unable to sleep.2

DON’T use caffeine as a crutch. We love a pumpkin spice latte as much as you do- but lay off caffeine in the afternoons as it will lessen your chances of a restful night’s sleep.

DO get out into the elements at least every day. Even if it’s a brisk 20-minute walk, the natural daylight will perk you up and support your circulation, helping to energise you. It may also help prompt your circadian rhythm to produce less melatonin.3

Why do I feel cold all the time?

Autumn temperatures in the UK can range from around 5 – 15 degrees centigrade. If you don’t layer your clothes and remember your coat, you’re likely to feel the cold.

If you’re wrapping up warm and still feeling the chill, it could be due to a number of factors.

  • Gender - research has found that men prefer a slightly cooler room temperature of 22 degrees centigrade, while women tend to prefer a warmer 25 degrees centigrade.4

  • Body weight – if you have a low BMI and low body fat, you may feel the cold more. Visceral fat provides a layer of insulation which keeps you warmer.

  • Reynaud’s – this condition affects your circulation and causes your extremities (fingers, toes etc) to feel cold and numb.

DO invest in some proper winter items such as gloves, thick socks and a proper coat. Coats can be bought in a nearly-new condition at a significant discount – try online or local charity shops. And remember to layer your winter outfits to trap warm air close to your body.

DON’T crank up the central heating too high in your home. This will dry out your skin and airways, leaving you at higher risk of skin issues such as eczema.5

Can lack of sleep make you feel cold?

Yes. Sleep helps to regulate body temperature – and skimping on sleep can make you feel colder. Our core body temperature drops slightly during the evening in preparation for sleep, so if you hold off on going to bed, you might feel a chill.6

DO go to bed too bundled up. Studies show being too warm at night disrupts a restful night’s sleep.

DON’T ignore your body. You’re more susceptible to catching bugs when you’re tired, so prioritise bedtime as soon as you’re tired.

Why am I always tired and cold?

Most likely, it’s a combination of burnout, lack of sleep and a poor diet.

More rarely, feeling consistently tired and cold could be a symptom of hypothyroidism. Also known as an underactive thyroid gland, this condition can cause a drop in core body temperature due to a lowered metabolic rate.7

Other symptoms include tiredness and weight gain. If you think you have hypothyroidism, consult your doctor.

What kind of vitamin deficiency makes you tired?

Vitamin D

Feeling tired in winter might have something to do with vitamin D levels. You make vitamin D from sunlight, so it’s no surprise that during autumn and winter, levels can run low.

Vitamin D helps support normal muscle function and contributes to energy-yielding metabolism.8

DO take a vitamin D supplement. Taking a 10mcg supplement daily is recommended for everyone by Public Health England during the winter months.9

DON’T stay indoors because there’s no sunlight out there. A little activity each day to get the blood flowing could work wonders for feelings of lethargy and seasonal exhaustion.

Iron

Symptoms of iron deficiency anaemia include tiredness, lack of energy and shortness of breath.10

While this can affect you at any time of year, you might find yourself busy and putting a balanced diet on the backburner during cold weather in favour of foods which cheer us up.

DO eat an iron-rich, balanced diet including beans, pulses, dried fruit, fortified breakfast cereals and red meat.

DON’T skimp on dark green leafy vegetables and salads.

Foods that make you tired and sluggish

Sugary food and drinks cause glucose and insulin spikes, which can leave you feeling tired and sluggish as your body works to balance your blood sugar.11

Avoid all the usual suspects here – cakes, biscuits, fizzy drinks, pastries and takeaways offer a short-term pick-me-up but will leave you feeling worse long-term.

Too many refined carbohydrates such as white pasta and white bread turn to sugar rapidly in your bloodstream and can have a similar effect. Of course, we’d never suggest forgoing carbs altogether – especially when it’s cold outside!

DO eat for energy. Stick to complex carbs such as brown bread, brown rice, vegetables and sweet potatoes.

DON’T eat for a short-term energy boost. Eat for overall health and you’ll help reduce tiredness.

Last updated: 13 November 2020

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Bhupesh Panchal

Bhupesh Panchal,
Senior Regulatory Affairs Associate

Joined Holland & Barrett: Apr 2019

Masters Degree in Toxicology and BSc Hons in Medical Biochemistry

Bhupesh started his career as a Clinical Toxicologist for Public Health England, advising healthcare professionals all around the country on how to manage clinical cases of adverse exposure to supplements, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, industrial chemicals and agricultural products.

After 7 years in this role and a further year working as a drug safety officer in the pharmaceutical industry, Bhupesh joined Holland & Barrett as a Senior Regulatory Affairs Associate in 2019.