If you live on the East Coast, chances are you had some weird weather this past weekend. Snow in October? Flurries are one thing, but inches upon inches? That’s just insanity. But still, it happened. And we still raced cyclocross, perhaps raced even harder and better than we would have otherwise, hoping to make our Belgian brethren jealous or proud. However, there were some of us who got home from the races, bloody, battered and mud-covered, just hoping to shower and crash, only to find no running water, no heat, and no lights.
For some parts of the North East, we’re in a three-day-long (and still counting) blackout. Now, this obviously changes daily routines: instead of making coffee, I have to go buy some. Ditto oatmeal. And yeah, no running water means going to the store just to use their bathroom. It’s feeling pretty Amish. But what bothers me the most is the way that my body is reacting to the daylight. While writing by candlelight, watching my computer’s battery die out, I remembered a study I had read a while back. The study looked at the way that athletes — and their training – are affected by daylight, or lack thereof. I’ve noticed in the past couple of days that I’m tired when it’s dark. This is a problem, since now it’s dark at 6 P.M. And while I’ve tried to stay out of the house until later to avoid coming home and being tucked in for bedtime at 8, it hasn’t been easy, since most of my area is closed by then.
Worse than going to bed early, or wanting to go to bed early, is the waking up. My cell phone battery hasn’t been holding a charge through morning, so I’m relegated to getting up when my body decides it’s time, not before. Unfortunately, my body doesn’t decide it’s time to wake up until the sun is out, so 7:30 is the norm, apparently, rather than my standard of 6:30. Still, it’s been an interesting experiment in the body’s physical adaptations to artificial light or the lack of artificial light. Sure, when I get up and out of the house, I’m getting some artificial beams. But the most important times of day, for the sake of experimenting, are bedtime and early morning, where there’s no light to be found. This doesn’t impact me much as far as work routine goes, since I work from home. But training-wise, it’s been a real eye-opener.
Let’s go to the study, first. Published two years ago in Sport Sciences for Health, “Training time and adaptation to lack of daylight: a case report” was written and conducted by Giovanna Calogiuri et al. Their purpose was to look at the reaction to a lack of daylight and a shift in training times by monitoring a subject who arrived in Northern Norway after a training stint in Italy.
It’s a bit more extreme than my personal case, but the study mentions a bit about life in an area where, for several months of the year, there is no sunlight:
“People in the north of Norway, who live in a state of prolonged darkness or light for several months of the year, often have mental and physical disorders and symptoms, such as daytime sleepiness, decreased ability to concentrate, depression, sleep disorders such as insomnia, and other complaints. In such situations, athletes often also claim that they do not manage to reach their optimum level, either in training situations or in contests. Common strategies for reducing these disturbances are, for example, exposure to bright-light lamps or consumption of melatonin.”
This was interesting to me, and I could certainly relate: my house is surrounded by trees, so even in daylight hours, being inside without electricity is quite dark, and even though it’s only been a few powerless days, I can relate to the symptoms that the study mentions, particularly daytime sleepiness and trouble concentrating. When I go outside to ride, I perk up almost immediately, and I’ve been noticing a distinct shift in my mood as I go from the dark house to the sunshine, or even into a store or other well-lit area.
The conclusion of the study is probably obvious at this point: “It could be seen that lack of daylight induced a decrease of the activity state in the subject, leading to increased sleep.”
So from this, one can infer that as daylight hours get shorter and shorter, our desire to train is going to decrease, at least to some extent. That isn’t to say that our motivation is gone, simply that biologically, we’re more inclined to want to sleep more. Of course, all of that can be at least slightly alleviated by use of artificial lights. By that, I don’t mean sunlamps, but I do mean that when we keep lights on later, or turn lights on in the morning, we are tricking our bodies into believing that it’s being exposed to daylight.
I miss eating at home. I miss showering at home. I miss using the toilet at home. But most of all, for better or worse, I’m missing the artificial light that determined when it was day and when it was night. However, there is good news, or, to pun it up, a “sunny side,” for those of us who already lead an active lifestyle. According to the study, “it is possible to assert that regular physical activity suppressed the fall of the activity level due to lack of daylight … the regular practice of an aerobic physical activity improved the low activity state in the subject which was induced by the lack of daylight. This phenomenon could be used to reduce the typical feeling of drowsiness that many people above the Arctic Circle claim to have during the winter.” Of course, our winters aren’t nearly as brutal as those in the Arctic Circle, since we do still have some (albeit reduced) daylight hours, but it’s worth noting that already being active should help avoid the winter doldrums.
So, as daylight wanes and daylight savings is almost upon us, I guess it’s time to look at my training plan and reassess when during the day I’ll be at my most optimal for training. It’s probably not in the wee hours of the morning, at least not unless I get my electricity (and my stove, and my coffee grinder and French Press) back.
“Training time and adaptation to lack of daylight: a case report”
Sport Sci Health (2009) 5:37–41 DOI 10.1007/s11332-009-0074-x
Giovanna Calogiuri • Sigurd Beldo • Eliana Roveda • Angela Montaruli • Franca Carandente • Andi Weydahl