Tips To Beat The Winter Blues – Understanding S.A.D

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

From flip flops and sunny days filled with activities outside, to walks, runs, swimming, bike rides, trips to the park with the kids, and getting plenty of vitamin D directly from the sun ~ we enjoy the long sunny evenings followed by breathtaking sunsets, and early sun rises. Then daylights saving comes, and just like that, in one day, or circadian rhythms are thrown off, and then we deal with the lack of sunshine, shorter days, exercise is lacking, overeating is the season, stress is high, and it can take weeks to adjust to the change.

Is it possible the change in circadian rhythms, trigger Seasonal Affective Disorder?

With the change of the seasons, many tend to feel a change within themselves as well, many may find themselves, or someone they love slip into a form of depression with symptoms that come and go with the season.

When we find that within a day our routine changes to now waking up in the dark and leaving work in the dark, returning home from work in the dark. Our internal clock depends on light to tell us when to sleep, when to eat, and even when our cells should divide is the biological processes to the demands of different parts of the day. Also the lack of light cues to the hypothalamus creates low serotonin levels, which are responsible for other types of major depression. When we experience less sunlight these rhythms stop functioning as normal as many of our circadian rhythms are dependent on sunlight. Internal clocks that are dependent on sunlight are called diurnal rhythms. Diurnal rhythms play the main role in mood and sleep, that when changes in the quality of light affect these immensely, as melatonin levels increase making people sleepier, while serotonin levels drop and leave one feeling lack of enjoyment in daily life.

Research on people who have Seasonal Affective Disorder, has found that they often have undiagnosed disruptions in their circadian rhythms. The natural production of melatonin, the hormone that tells us to sleep, is particularly affected, one experiencing symptoms of SAD have high melatonin levels even during daylight hours in the winter.

It is easy to see how these biochemical changes can lead to depression in people with a genetic predisposition, and may find their symptoms more sensitive with the changes of the season. It can typically take 2-3 years of cycled behaviours and symptoms in which people who have normal mental health throughout the year, only experience depressive symptoms at a specific time of the year. It is important to be mindful of symptoms of SAD.

One of the main things you can do to help yourself through the winter blues is ensuring you have good sleep hygiene:

1. Maintain a steady sleep schedule.
Ensuring you are going to bed and rising at the same time, even on weekends. Even the variations of more than 20 minutes can lead to a dysregulated circadian rhythm.

2. Develop a soothing bedtime routine.
Taking a warm bath, having a cup of herbal tea, spend a few minutes focusing on breathing and meditation, focusing on the things you are grateful and happy for, otherwise calming yourself on a nightly basis will reinforce your circadian rhythm and help you to go to bed more calm and ready for sleep.

3. Avoid naps whenever possible, as they reinforce wakefulness during the night hours.

4. Keep screens out of your bedroom, including television, computers and devices such as smartphones.

5. Reserve your bed for sleep, all other activities including lying awake and worrying, should be performed at another place. This will help your brain to associate your bed with sleep rather than other activities.

6. Limit caffeine use to the morning. Drinking caffeinated beverages after noon may make you more wakeful, even hours later at bedtime.

7. Get plenty of exercise at the right times – which for most people is before 2pm.

It is often easy to keep a regulated circadian rhythm once you have established the right habits. These simple lifestyle changes can have positive lifelong consequences for both your health and your happiness

Stay healthy in mind and body,
Dr. Laura

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