Fewer hours of daylight and colder temperatures can impact your mood and your health. While many people feel less energetic in the winter, seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is more than the “winter blues.” It affects your day-to-day life and your sleep.
What Is Seasonal Affective Disorder?
SAD is a type of depression that occurs at the same time each year. Often beginning in late fall or early winter, SAD is treatable and usually resolved within a few months.
Symptoms may include:
- Trouble sleeping (insomnia)
- Fatigue and daytime sleepiness
- Poor appetite
- Weight loss
- Agitation or anxiety
- Increased irritability
- Social withdrawal
What Causes Seasonal Affective Disorder?
As the days get shorter, many people don’t receive the sun exposure they need to get their daily vitamin D, which wakes them up and helps boot their mood. This is because the shorter days and reduced daylight during the seasonal change can cause your brain to produce too much melatonin. Melatonin is vital to getting the rest you need each night but producing too much can keep you feeling drowsy and sluggish during the day. It can also lead to seasonal depression symptoms.
SAD may also be a result of reduced serotonin levels in the brain – serotonin helps regulate your mood, and when you don’t have enough of it, you can experience mood disorders. Reduced vitamin D levels during the darker months may also affect your serotonin levels.
Both melatonin and serotonin help your body maintain its normal rhythm – with these hormone levels in flux, your daily rhythm is disrupted, leading to behavioural, mood, and sleep changes. The risk of this increases during the fall and winter months when there is less sunlight during the day.
Sunlight is vital to keeping your circadian rhythm in alignment – when the sun comes up, your body produces less melatonin so you can wake up and produces more as it gets dark, and you get ready for bed. During the winter, the days are significantly shorter and darker than usual. Without enough light exposure during the day, you’re at risk of circadian misalignment, poor sleep, and mood disorders.
How Does Seasonal Affective Disorder Affect Sleep?
People with SAD often feel excessively sleepy during the day and sleep longer than usual at night. According to research, people with SAD sleep two hours longer or more per night in the winter compared with the summer.
People can also have difficulty waking from a long sleep or feel the need to nap repeatedly throughout the day. Napping may not provide relief from feeling sleepy, though.
Healthy sleep is essential to your overall health. It helps you balance your mood and emotions. Without healthy sleep, you’re more likely to struggle with feelings of depression and anxiety.
How to Treat Seasonal Affective Disorder
Although SAD usually resolves within a few months when the seasons change, there are treatment options available:
Light is one of the best ways to treat seasonal depression. Light therapy is also used to treat major depressive disorder with a seasonal pattern, sleep disorders, and jet lag. Through light therapy, you provide your body with the vital light you’re missing during the darker months, helping regulate your mood.
During light therapy, a bright artificial light mimics sunshine exposure that’s missing during winter months. Research shows that daily light therapy may reduce depressive symptoms as much as 83% after one month.
It’s best to do light therapy early in the morning, or right after you wake up. To get the most out of your treatment, the light needs to enter your eyes directly – skin exposure isn’t enough, but don’t look directly into the light. This can cause eye damage.
*DREEM TIP* Try out Lumie SAD and energy lights to help start your light therapy.
Going outdoors, getting regular exercise, eating energy-boosting foods, and engaging in social interactions may reduce symptoms. Establishing healthy sleep habits can help if you have difficulty sleeping as a result of season depression. Adjusting your daily behaviours and routines can impact your quality of sleep. Follow these sleep tips to improve your ability to fall asleep and stay asleep.
Relaxation techniques are simple practices you can do to relieve stress and unwind. They’re also hugely beneficial to a good night’s sleep. A few other benefits offered by relaxation techniques include:
- Improved mood
- Reduced aches or muscle tension
- Reduced blood pressure
- Better digestive health
Here are a few relaxation techniques we recommend:
- Yoga – this is great for practicing mindfulness and helping you become more in-tune with your body.
- Meditation – this allows you to “pause” what’s going on around you and enter your own state of calm and serenity.
- Breathing exercises – we all know the power of a deep, calming breath. This takes it one step further by repeating these deep calming breaths to help encourage relaxation, clear your mind, and promote restfulness.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy
Also known as CBT, this is a short-term behavioural treatment that helps you stop the cycle of negative thinking, cope with your anxieties in a healthy way, and get back to sleeping better.
CBT works by adjusting your thoughts to influence your emotions and behaviour in a healthier way, in a process called cognitive restructuring. So, by changing your line of thinking and how you assess any situations that arise, you can manage your anxiety and control your symptoms. This is especially important as you’re getting ready for bed, since a racing and anxious mind can make it much harder to fall asleep quickly and can negatively affect your sleep quality.
Another form of cognitive behavioural therapy comes in the form of journaling. Writing down your thoughts and feelings, good or bad, in a journal helps you process your emotions in a healthy and productive way. You can vent your worries or frustrations, keep track of good things that happened during the day, whatever you want! As long as you’re taking your time to make sense of your thoughts, you can make it much easier to fall asleep at night.