Northern Wilds Magazine
Adding an extra hour of sleep each night and having a daily routine can help ease the stress of winter. | STOCK

Sunlight, Cold Weather and the Human Body


 Adding an extra hour of sleep each night and having a daily routine can help ease the stress of winter. | STOCK

Adding an extra hour of sleep each night and having a daily routine can help ease the stress of winter. | STOCK

Animals live in tune with nature. They expend and conserve energy, eat and sleep following cues by the body in accordance with natural rhythms. Humans, not so much. When it begins to get dark earlier and earlier, we simply flip on the lights. As the cold weather encroaches, our natural tendency to store fat for the impending cold leads to sugar binges due to an abundance of food at the ready. Our current tendency towards the sedentary, or busyness, does not adjust due to the change in season. Our bodies still want to follow the natural rhythms, yet we require it adjust to unnatural circumstances. This leads to stress on the systems you count on to keep you in optimal condition. Mild illnesses are the norm, they keep our immune system in check, yet the continued perpetuation of the bad habits that arise due to these unnatural conditions creates an environment ripe for a weakened immune system, poor sleep, weight gain, mental fogginess, anxiety and extreme fatigue.

We cannot readily change the weather or the circumstances of the human condition. What we can do is slightly adjust our lives, to gently acclimate to the extremes of living so far north.


Seasonal Affective Disorder does not exist at the Equator. The sun rises at 6 a.m. and sets at 6 p.m., and the weather fluctuates by about 10 degrees Fahrenheit. Sure there are extremes in weather, but this type of climate is in a steady state more often than not. This is very different from life in the north, where days can be very short or very long, with extreme temperature fluctuations. Our body wants to exist within a steady state called homeostasis. At the Equator, there are almost no changes to your wardrobe over a year, unlike here where we must accommodate the change in seasons. Change is a challenge, but just as we change our clothing, our bodies need a change to better adjust to the fluctuating seasons. Having a routine during the winter months can help ease stress placed on your system. Your body is already compensating on a daily basis with the ever-shortening days and the cold temperatures, so when you skip a meal, don’t get adequate sleep or spend too many days sitting around, you are exacerbating the stress. Eating and sleeping at the same time, and consistently staying active, can help your body relax.

Proper Sleep:

Shorter and darker days naturally lead to the need for more sleep, but our lives are busy. We have jobs that require us to be awake at a certain time. But if we were living like those animals out in the woods, we would be sleeping more hours during the winter. Most of us do not adjust our sleep cycles to natural rhythms and because of this, we can experience pronounced sleep disorders. Adding an extra hour of sleep during the winter months is an easy remedy. Supplements such as melatonin can help. Originally an aid for those adjusting to jet lag, melatonin has grown in notoriety as a natural way to balance sleep cycles.

A little goes a long way, so start with the lowest dose available. Take it about 45 minutes before you want to fall asleep.

Adequate Exercise:

Physically active people are happier. Exercise has been shown to improve mood, reduce stress levels and leave a general sense of well-being. It also helps work toxins out of the body, through lymph action, therefore boosting your immune system. Exercise does not have to be rigorous or dreaded, simply find an activity that appeals to you and ease into it.

Vitamin D:

Little is understood about our need for the sun’s energy, but we do know that it helps us produce vitamin D, which we need to survive. Supplementation levels vary; ranging from 1,000-10,000 IU’s. Since vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin (which means you store it), it is important to check with a physician to find the dosage that work best for you. Remember to look for a vitamin D3 supplement, as this is its natural form. Vitamin D2 is also commonly available, but is the synthetic form.

Without the circumstances humans have created, living here in the Northern Wilds would be a painfully cold existence—a fight for survival every day. We are incredibly lucky to have lights, heat and food at the ready. The key is finding the right balance between this human world we have created and the effects the natural world is having upon us.

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