When it's still pitch dark in the morning and the rain is lapping on the bedroom window, it's twice as difficult for some people to get out of bed during the cold months of the year.
But most people have no choice and are only making things worse by complaining. A proper breakfast, strong light, a cold shower and movement are ways to get the blood pumping.
Though humans do not hibernate, darkness does cause a similar reaction that disturbs the body's natural rhythms, said Thomas Kantermann, chronobiologist at the University of Munich.<b1>
"We need sunlight to allow our inner clock to keep time," said Kantermann. The clock runs slow in the absence of this stimulus. The reason is linked to the sleep-promoting hormone melatonin, said Ruediger Schmitt-Homm, a physiologist at the German Green Cross, an association for promoting health.
"When it is too dark in the morning, the release of melatonin is not stopped," he said. The first thing to do in the morning is turn on as bright a light as possible. Keeping the lights low is counterproductive.
A cold shower or a shower alternating hot and cold water is an effective means of getting the circulation going in the morning, said Schmitt-Homm.
A cold shower causes the blood vessels to contract and the blood must then flow faster. Many people can bring themselves to stand under a cold shower. And actually they don't have to, said Schmitt-Homm. It's enough to run a cold washcloth over the face a few times.
Breakfast plays a big role in getting the right start in the morning. It should be hearty, but not lie heavy on the stomach.
"It can be muesli, whole wheat bread, milk, yoghurt or cheese," said Urte Brink of a German association of dieticians and nutritionists in Cologne. It can be rounded off with fruit. "Above all, vitamin C is important in the winter."
Proteins for breakfast hold longer than carbohydrates and sugar, said Schmidt-Homm, who recommends eggs, low-fat curd cheese or low-fat turkey instead of bread with marmalade. Muesli should be enriched by protein-rich nuts, sunflower seeds and flax seed.
Many people also must have strong coffee in the morning. The experts caution coffee drinkers not to consume too much caffeine because three or four hours later the coffee drinker can experience a low. It's better to have just one cup in the morning and another one in the afternoon.
For a fully alert feeling in the morning, physical activity should follow a good breakfast. Going from sitting at the kitchen table to sitting in the car to sitting at one's desk isn't enough. Jogging, cycling or swimming are all good options, but typically there's no time for these activities in the morning. Kantermann suggests getting off the bus one stop early and walking the rest of the way to work or taking the dog for a walk.
Physical activity not only supplies the body with fresh air, but it also helps it get the necessary light. "Even on a rainy day we get more sunlight than we get sitting in a well-lighted office," said Kantermann.