How Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) Affects Us
Winter is coming which often comes with seasonal depressive symptoms that lower our mood over the cold months. Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD is a type of depression that can be attributed to multiple environmental factors. Naturally, with the colder weather we see more grey skies than blue and get less natural sunlight with shorter days. We are more limited in our outdoor and social activities and quite literally feel weighed down by all of our clothing layers.
We often forget the physiological benefits of sunlight like providing us with vitamin D which helps our nervous system, immune system, and strengthen our bones and muscles. Some ways to elevate our vitamin D levels is to incorporate natural sources of vitamin D into your diet. You may want to speak to a registered dietician for reliable nutritional information, as well as your family doctor for further assessment on any vitamin deficiencies. Sunlight also sends a message to our brain to produce more serotonin, the neurotransmitter that helps us regulate our mood. Without this natural way to stimulate more serotonin and essential vitamins, it makes sense why our mood is often much lower in the winter months. One way to increase our sunlight is using an indoor sunlight lamp that tricks our brain into seeing more sunlight.
Additionally, cold weather and limited hours of sunlight can make us feel more tired than usual, so it is important that we set healthy bedtime routines and personal boundaries. Sleep quality, also referred to as sleep hygiene, plays an important role in our physical and mental health. Consistently getting a good night’s sleep helps us regulate mood and emotion and improves reactivity and alertness. Sleep quality can also be impacted by depression, anxiety, concussions, and medications. Some things we can do to give us the best chance of getting a good sleep include:
Create a comforting space; try to do work outside of bed so that we do not associate bed or sleep with the stresses of our work life.
Open your blinds in the morning; try to maximize the amount of natural sunlight in your bedroom with a task that also motivates you to get out of bed.
Put your phone away at least 30 minutes before sleeping; studies have shown that using your phone not only keeps our brain activated and engaged, but the light from our devices also suppresses our body’s natural melatonin production (Kühnel et al., 2021). Melatonin is the hormone that makes us feel sleepy and maintains our sleep cycle.
Let’s not let this winter get us down by doing our best to prepare for the upcoming season. If you want to chat more about individualizing and improving your physical and mental habit, feel free to book a session with me, Alex, using the link below.
Kühnel, J., Diestel, S., & Melchers, K. G. (2021). An ambulatory diary study of mobile device use, sleep, and positive mood. International Journal of Stress Management, 28(1), 32-45. https://doi.org/10.1037/str0000210