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feeling cold and tired?

Autumnal fatigue: What is it?

14 Jun 2022 • 12 min read

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 and awake when it’s light.

That’s why in the summer months we sometimes can get the opposite problem of light too late making it difficult for us to get to sleep, and the early dawns waking us too early!

This can also be the consequence of technology keeping our environment brighter in the evenings.

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.

So, in the context of autumn - not only are you being kept awake in the evenings by artificial light, but we are made to feel very sleepy in the mornings by the lack of light. Exactly the opposite to how our bodies like to run!

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 forget that feeling fatigue and tiredness also makes us less motivated to exercise and move our bodies.

It kind of encourages us to be passive and ‘rest’ more, which instead of alleviating fatigue and tiredness, often makes it worse!

Handpicked contentGuide to fighting fatigue

3 tips to help fight autumnal fatigue

Here are the most influential factors that can quickly make you feel better during autumn according to our Sleep Expert!

1. Use artificial bright light in the mornings

 

2. Exercise even when you don’t feel like it

 

3. Get out into the elements at least every day

 

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

  1. 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

  2. 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.

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

How to stay warm during autumn

  • Invest in some winter clothes

Make sure you have 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 have the heating on too high

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

Why am I always tired and cold?

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.6

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

Can lack of quality sleep make you feel cold?

Yes. Sleep helps to regulate body temperature – and skimping on quality 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 chiltoo, but this is normal.7

It is helpful to have the bedroom a degree or so cooler than the rest of your house to encourage the physiological sleep initiation process, but remember you have got to be comfortable so there is a lot of personal preference here.

When you feel you haven’t had a good night's sleep, carry on with your day making sure you eat a balanced diet and enough food so you are not hungry, you hydrate and you exercise.

Handpicked content: 10 foods to help you sleep

Be social and enjoy your day. The extra sleepiness you build from a bad night plus a good day will actually boost the quality of your next night's sleep!

Go to bed the next night after a bad night when you feel 'sleepy tired'.

Don’t be confused between ‘fatigue tired’ which can be described as so many things such as fatigue, needing to rest, pain, feeling sick, aching, thoughts whirring, etc.

‘Sleepy tired’, on the other hand, really only has one definition – the ability to fall asleep within a few minutes (eyes/head drooping).

It is also the only type of tiredness that requires sleep. Getting this wrong and forcing yourself to bed when you are not sleepy will lead to anxiety, thoughts whirring, and you feeling less sleepy than ever!

Unnecessarily adding more bedtime to your routine does not equal more sleep time.

It is important to rest up when you are not feeling well – but resting, in general, does not mean sleep.

What kind of vitamin deficiency makes you tired?

Vitamin D

 

Iron

 
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

Reduce 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. Try to stick mostly to complex carbs such as brown bread, brown rice, vegetables and sweet potatoes.

DON’T eat for a short-term energy boost all the time. Eat for overall health (whilst still enjoying your food) and you’ll help reduce feelings of tiredness.

How can I get more energy?

Need a boost? We all know the feeling when we’re lacking in energy and get-up-and-go, which can be particularly acute in the winter. In this episode, we’ll look at simple ways to get more energy from:

  • The foods we eat.
  • Exercises and fitness.
  • How we can supplement.
stephanie-romiszewski

Stephanie Romiszewski

Author

Expert Behavioural Sleep Therapist

Sleep Psychology BSc Hons Psychology & MSc Degree in Behavioural Sleep Medicine

With Stephanie, one thing is clear – she is seriously passionate about your sleep!

She understands that sleep is fascinating…. but listening to experts talk about its importance can be scary and can actually increase our anxieties about our own sleep, causing sleep problems in itself!

Stephanie takes the no jargon no scaremongering approach – she wants you to feel good about this wonderful thing you have free access to, and never to worry about it.

She wants sleep education to be accessible and believes that if we can change our societal norms around sleep, we can be in control, no more loneliness and no more feeling like your problem is so unique, you have no hope, because this simply isn’t true. Let Stephanie liberate you from all the noise, and make things simple.

Look out for Stephanie's behavioural sleep experts series which Holland and Barrett will be showcasing for the next 12 months, where Stephanie will be giving her expert advice on how to use behavioural sleep support to help improve your sleep problems.

Experience

Stephanie has seen over 10,000 sleep patients now, starting her career in the USA at Brigham and Womens Hospital Harvard Sleep Division, studying and conducting experiments in Circadian rhythms, including the infamous blue light research and working with NASA on Mars day studies. She then moved on to a sleep disorders centre in London at Guys and St Thomas Hospital.

She has set up various sleep services for the NHS and has founded Sleepyhead Clinic – a sleep treatment centre for patients, a sleep education training service for medical professionals and is a sleep advisor for various media platforms such as the BBC, ITV, and Sky.

Stephanie has most recently developed an online platform - Sleepyhead Program to bring accessible treatment to even more people. As well as using everything she has learnt over the last 16 years, Stephanie is using cutting-edge AI technology to help inform behaviour and learn from her thus personalising the online experience, her aim to make Sleepyhead Program superior to seeing herself in clinic.

In her spare time, Stephanie enjoys spending time outdoors, hiking on Dartmoor to scrabbling up mountains, to paddle boarding in the Scottish Highlands with her dog Pasco.

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