As we ease into the darker months of Scandinavian winter, I’m getting worried. Aren’t you?
Winter is a challenge for many Scandinavians, but even more so to those people who aren’t used to the seemingly-eternal darkness or, worse, aren’t morning people. I’m one of them.
This is my alarm:
I can tolerate the wind and the icy bike lanes, but the lack of daylight makes waking up feel impossible. Having made the decision that Copenhagen is my home, this season I’ve decided to Embrace The Suck. Can we glass-half-full our way through this? With a few strategies in place, I think we all can.
I talk about my sleep patterns a lot. To everyone. Look, I’m doing it again. That’s because since moving to Denmark, sleep has become the number one priority in my life.
I have a rare talent for sleeping. I’ve slumbered through jackhammers in my house. To be honest, I actually can’t remember doing it, because I’m just that good. Like most talents, I always felt that the ability to sleep should be cultivated. Until I moved to Copenhagen, that is, where during winter I’d find myself going to bed far too late and waking up after the sun had gone down. As a foreign freelancer not used to living without the cues of sunlight to guide my days, I’d find myself working on projects until 6am then struggling with 9am appointments the next day. Something had to be done.
After talking to locals, experimenting with different methods and becoming mildly obsessed with the topic, I’m here to share what works for me. Perhaps it will work for you too:
Go to bed early
You heard me. If it’s after 10pm, stop reading this and go to sleep you crazy cat!
I’m a night owl. I hate saying goodbye to the day. Now I realise that going to bed at 10pm is a must for my happiness. Most of them time, excluding rampages of Cyrenaic hedonism, I’m pretty good at it.
I’ve found it helpful to:
- Have an alarm set for going to bed
- Turn off screens as early as possible – the blue light emitted wrecks havoc with your melatonin
It’s all about delayed gratification. Say goodbye to today so tomorrow can be even better. Once, at a mid-week dinner party, I found myself sitting next to a guest that became antsy because he knew he was going to have a terrible next day if he didn’t go to bed soon. As I reached to refill my wine glass, I admired his understanding of delayed gratification. Perhaps one day I could be that disciplined.
Try to get eight hours sleep. I have read no less then one million articles on this topic (this is my personal favourite!) and my conclusion is eight hours is good. Practically speaking, if I aim for eight I’ll get at least seven hours. Reading articles on how many hours you’re supposed to sleep is an excellent sleep-avoidance technique. Put that iPad down and go to bed.
Need more tips on falling asleep? Read our earlier article:
Create a morning routine
I’m quite taken with my “miracle morning”, and disappointed when it doesn’t happen. It involves: wake to favourite songs, DON’T THINK, slide out of bed and straight to brush teeth, floss, drink lemon water, do salutations, meditation, 5-minute journal, a quick review of to do list, run, shower, coffeeeeee, breakfast, read, Duolingo Danish, dress, GO!
Getting up is less painful when you have a routine to pull you through. It’s also great to get all the tasks that you should do out of the way so you’ve laid the ground work for a great day.
Preparation is key. Before going to bed, put out the lemons on the cutting board and lay out your exercise gear. I love waking up to a clean room and a simple to do list. I’ll do anything to alleviate decision fatigue and save cognitive power for later in the day when I need it.
Here are some things that are great to include in your routine:
- Coffee is your friend (unless it isn’t). On those harder mornings, I’ll make a coffee ASAP. No shame allowed. Coffee — really nice, organic, fair trade, and brewed-with-love coffee — is excellent! Apparently it may prevent Alzeihmers. If caffeine isn’t your friend, then a herbal tea might do the trick.
- Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy. You know the rest. Sometimes I’ll go for a run around the lakes. Sometimes I’ll walk downstairs and change my mind and google “bed yoga”. Lately I’m loving Yoogaia which allows you to do classes at home with an instructor through your webcam. Switch up your routine when you’re getting bored and do what you love. There’s nothing like breaking into a sweat to help truly wake you up.
- Do not read the news. Do not jump on Facebook. Say no to unnecessary noise.
- Lemon water is also your friend. It’s the best thing for alkalising your system first thing in the morning and getting a quick vitamin C kick. The smell can kick start beta-wave production in your brain, raising alertness and energy levels by up to 50 percent. Sound too good to be true? Try it! But don’t brush your teeth after drinking it because you’ll strip off your tooth enamel.
Pretend you like the dark in the morning
I have a Swedish friend that likes the quiet stillness of Scandinavian mornings. He noted that there’s unique beauty in the moments before dawn before the world awakens. The way he described it intrigued me, so I decided to adapt has attitude as my own. Yes, my friend: fake it until you make it.
I also believe that hygge is something that shouldn’t just be reserved for those dark winter evenings. Incorporate it in the morning too. I wish that my sister lived in Copenhagen with me as my personal alarm clock. She would always wake me up by throwing on the music, lighting candles and cooking up a savory breakfast that wafted through the house. I’d wake up pretty quickly to join the party! If you do have an amazing person like this in your life, never let them go. Otherwise, just try to bring a bit of hygge to your own life; light a candle, spray a linen spray as you make your bed. Because you’re worth it.
Have a reason to get up
Hauling yourself out of bed requires motivation, at least initially. Beyond work, having a reason to get up in the morning makes the whole process so much easier. Try to remind yourself before you go to bed and when you wake up. Having something to look forward to, beyond just getting task done, is powerful stuff. This might involve some soul searching. What are you doing with you life? No idea? No wonder you can’t get up in the morning. I’ve been there, and it’s something I believe we all should review regularly. Figuring out what you’re going to do with your life is generally what gets me up in the morning, and that’s kinda exciting.
The humdrum of routine catches up with you and before you know it, life has passed you by. I understand that this can seem a little over the top, but I truly believe this is important. Is your purpose to help people? To inspire compassion? You can get more specific than this! Lost? Pick up a copy of Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankel; it’s a great place to start.
When all else fails, maybe food is the answer. Seriously. I am so motivated to get my tired ass out of bed when I have a delicious breakfast planned.
Take your vitamins
Getting enough vitamin D is a must to combat the winter blues and get up in the dark. I leave the vitamins out where I can see them so that I actually take them, because I’ve found that simply owning vitamin D tablets isn’t enough. Go figure.
Depression afflicts a lot of Scandinavian residents at this time of year and vitamin D deficiencies exacerbate these problems. A hero of mine, Mike Monteiro, recently wrote about getting help for depression. Allie Brosh’s “Adventures in Depression” and “Depression Part Two,” comics collected in her book Hyperbole and a Half are brilliant.
If you are feeling depressed, you are not alone. Please reach out to your doctor or call the Suicide Helpline. Help is available!
Get the right alarm clock
There are lots of great options. I set different songs for different days of the weeks on my iPhone. It’s a strange system but I like it. Putting your alarm clock out of reach really helps.
I have my eyes set on this Philips Wake Up Light, and I have high hopes for it helping me through the winter. Other people swear by digital fitness bands like Jawbone UP24, which tracks your sleep patterns and wakes you at the optimal time to avoid grogginess. Experiment and see what works for you.
Remember, we’re all in this together! A Danish poet called Henrik Nordbrandt wrote the following poem “The Year Has 16 Months:”
Året har 16 måneder: November
december, januar, februar, marts, april
maj, juni, juli, august, september
oktober, november, november, november, november
November is hard. December is okay because of the distraction of Christmas. The crystal clear snow of January is dazzling in its beauty. But then February is a shocker.
Some mornings will be hard, but that doesn’t mean you have to be hard on yourself. I’m determined to one day say I’m a morning person and actually mean it.
….Or if all else fails, head to Spain.
Important note: we are not doctors. If you’re really struggling with waking up, it’s time to consult your GP!
Do you have tips that help you get up during the Scandi winter? Let us know in the comments!