The weather is colder, the days are shorter and this is the time you can struggle to maintain a happy, healthy mindset… much less getting the high-quality sleep our bodies need to truly rest and recover so we can conquer our day. You spend so much time over the holidays celebrating with family and friends that getting back to your “real life” after can seem daunting. In fact, the time after the holidays is when seasonal affective disorder, SAD, sets in for many people… Yes, the winter blues are real and the abbreviation for the disorder really does make us sad. SAD can include symptoms like extreme fatigue, difficulty concentrating, low motivation and weight gain.
How exactly does SAD affect your sleep? This part is a bit indirect but your body’s circadian rhythm is primarily dependent on sunlight, one study found that if you suffer from SAD you may, in fact, be more sensitive to light than others, especially during the winter. Since we’re experiencing less sunlight in the winter, someone that suffers from SAD will experience disruptions in their biological clock that disrupts their serotonin and melatonin production.
Both Serotonin and melatonin play a key role in regulating your mood and sleep patterns, and they’re both affected by the changes in light that bring on SAD. These hormones actually play a bigger role than you realize as “happy” hormone serotonin rules the daytime, and as night sets in, the brain turns serotonin into the “sleep” hormone melatonin to help you fall asleep. Your body needs Vitamin D to produce serotonin, and you get less Vitamin D when there’s less sunlight. This can result in lower energy levels during the day and feelings of lethargy. Your pineal gland is then supposed to kickstart melatonin production but with the lack of sunlight during the winter it can get confused. Less sunlight means it doesn’t do its job as well which leads us into this SAD circle.
Tips to Help You Beat the Winter Blues
After the rush of the holidays, if you find yourself feeling down and sleep-deprived we’ve put together some tips to help you get the rest you need to get to conquer your days.
Create Pre-Bed Routine:
Give yourself 20 or 30 minutes to relax and get ready for sleep each night before you turn in. Start by leaving all devices in another room, and reward yourself with some quiet and enjoyable activities: drink some hot tea, take a warm shower, read a bit (from an actual book) and snuggle into bed. Creating a new habit can take longer than you thought, but you will reap the rewards of getting amazing sleep that can help you create more new, healthy habits along the way. Pick a wind-down routine that best fits your lifestyle and you will succeed. Of course, being excited to jump into your bed is a big plus and you can do that by sleeping on the most comfortable mattress ever made.
Be sure to supplement your diet with vegetables high in Vitamin D and even consider adding a Vitamin D supplement. In fact, a supplement that features Rhodiola Rosea can help you stay calm and focused to help with your moods.
Brighten It Up
The lack of sunlight outside can definitely decrease the amount of vitamin D you intake, so taking a supplement can help, but also, light therapy can help boost your mood. In fact, studies have shown that sitting by an artificial light box for thirty minutes a day can help with the blues as much as antidepressant medication.
Manage Your Screen Time
Cold weather often means we spend more time indoors, and that tempts us to spend more time watching television, looking at our computer screen or playing on our phone. Too much screen time diminishes mood, builds fatigue and creates too many distractions. Try making a point to put down devices and step away from screens if you are suffering.
Keep a Sleep Schedule
Go to bed and get up at the same time every day! Being consistent means you can eventually ditch the alarm clock as your body naturally knows when it’s time to wake up. This also means an alarm at night to remind you to begin your nighttime routine will be just as important as your morning alarm. Each person has a different sweet spot of how many hours of sleep a night you need between 7 and 9. Try different bedtimes and wake up times, takes notes of how you feel on 7 hours of sleep vs 8 hours of sleep vs 9 hours of sleep. You’ll notice slight differences and be able to tell which day you were operating at your best.
According to Harvard Medical School, exercise helps “improve moods and mental functioning.” So if you notice you are exercising less than usual, or not at all, try integrating it into your routine a couple of times a week, then build on that. It is an important component to physical and mental health, so if you find you’re struggling to manage your mood, consider increasing your exercise. In the everlasting words of Elle Woods: