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How A "Zeitgeber" Can Help You Beat the October Morning Blues
So we called Philip Gehrman, PhD, the clinical director of the Behavioral Sleep Medicine program at the University of Pennsylvania. "This ultimately comes down to a biological issue," he explained. At night, when we turn off the light to go to bed, we trigger the release of the hormone melatonin, which makes us feel tired and sluggish. As we sleep in a room that stays darker longer in the morning, our melatonin levels stay elevated.
Gehrman says that any external cue that helps synchronize our body clock to the earth's 24-hour cycle is called a "zeitgeber" or "time giver." Bright light is the most powerful zeitgeber because it directly inhibits the release of melatonin. This is why it feels so much easier to get up when the July sun is streaming through your windows.
Gehrman says that the best way to get yourself up and out during the darker months is to create artificial sunlight in your home. "As soon as your feet hit the floor, flip on all the lights and start the day with gusto," says Gehrman. He adds that the blue-green part of the light spectrum in sunlight has the most potent effect on our circadian rhythms, but any standard or energy-efficient light bulb will work as a sufficient cue.
If your partner still needs the dark to sleep, hurry into the bathroom and turn on the overhead light as well as the mirror bulbs -- everything. "The brighter, the better," says Gehrman. Physical activity is another zeitgeber, so doing a few jumping jacks or arm swings will also help get you going (and it will raise your body temperature, decreasing your longing for the blankets you recently gave up). Gehrman says that you can also invest in a dawn simulator that gradually lights your room to full brightness starting about a half hour before you want to get up. "This helps trick the brain into thinking that the sun is coming up," says Gehrman. (The only problem is that it tricks the brains of everyone in the room, so your partner--and maybe even pets--will start to wake up, too.)
As a reminder, always consult your doctor for medical advice and treatment before starting any program.