Caffeine and Vitamin D With a Sun Lamp Chaser

Coping with winter: As days get shorter are your coffee breaks getting longer?

Posted Sep 07, 2011

I'm not going to start out this blog with the phrase "It's that time of year again"; but let's just say that I'm starting to wake up in the mornings with cravings for chunky sweaters, vitamin D, and lots of caffeine.

I wish I could say I'm one of those people who doesn't need caffeine, but it's the middle of winter and I probably wouldn't make it through this blog without a cuppa. Caffeine, in moderation, can give a helpful lift through these months of waning sunshine. But drink too much and it can tip the scales in the wrong direction, leaving us quivvering and cranky.

I can't count the number of caffeine-drinking clients I've spoken with who had anxiety problems or trouble sleeping every night. When asked when they last drank caffeine for the day they'd respond, "Oh, just a Coke with dinner." Well, caffeine has a half-life in the body of 5 to 7 hours. For people who are particularly sensitive, that means they might have trouble falling asleep if they've ingested caffeine 10 hours or more prior to bedtime.

While experts disagree on whether or not certain levels of caffeine in the diet are permissible, it is generally considered good practice to stop drinking it by the early afternoon so it can metabolize by bedtime. Remember, also, that caffeine is not just found in soda and coffee. Do you ever have a bedtime snack of chocolate? Don't be surprised if you have trouble sleeping. You'd think I'd learn that by now, but just a few weeks ago I found myself tossing, turning and regretting the toffee chocolate bar I ate while watching Animal Planet. Scratch that- I never regret chocolate.

This 2006 article and podcast from NPR discusses some helpful and little known facts about caffeine: "Coffee: A Little Really Does Go A Long Way"

While we're talking pick-me-ups, Vitamin D is a topic we see in the news more frequently as winter draws near. When a couple years ago Dr. Oz said on Oprah that Vitamin D helps with seasonal depression and that a good many of us are deficient, there must have been a huge run on Vitamin D at every pharmacy. But who needs it, when, how much, and for how long?

It really is worth talking to your doctor about and requesting a blood test. There's no way of knowing how much Vitamin D you're getting and how much more you need to supplement. I had my level tested two winters ago and the doctor did indeed suggest I supplement during the winter. But self-medicating is not worth the risk, no matter how innocent a vitamin may appear.

When winter is on its way - or already toying with your emotions - ask yourself these questions so you can come up with a coping strategy:

  • Am I experiencing any changes in mood or motivation? Is it due to a life situation or could it simply be the change of season?

  • Looking back over recent years, did I notice the seasons having an effect on my mood or motivation? What helped me cope and how can I prepare better this year? Have you tried a sun lamp? How about putting together a coping-kit?

  • Who can I enlist and have a discussion with about monitoring me for seasonal mood changes? In other words, find a blues-buddy.

  • Is there a way I can bring the outdoors in? Find ways to introduce color and nature into your home so it's already there when you need it. One year I gathered autumn leaves, sticks, stones, plants, and a water fountain. I arranged an homage to nature that served as a reminder of what was to come once the snow melts.

  • How can I get involved and stay active? A motivational project, support group, exercise class, meditation group, personal coach or counselor? You may not feel like arranging any of this once the snow flies and you find yourself couched until the grass grows green.

  • What's great about today? Preparation can be helpful but don't let it become worrying or consuming. Practicing mindfulness and remembering gratitude are two of the best things you can do for your overall well being. As spiritual teacher Ram Dass wrote, "Be here now". Treat yourself to a trip to the bookstore, grab a cup of coffee (caffeine!), and explore books on mindfulness such as The Power of Now or A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle.

Remember that no matter the season, no matter your location, there is always blue sky above the grey clouds.