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Seasonal Affective Disorder and Sleep

Fall is officially here! The shorter cooler days give relief from the summer heat, and the hustle and bustle of the holidays approaching starts to ring in the air. This transition brings about warm drinks, cozy blankets, and more time off with friends and family. However, for some people these fall and winter days also bring about a feeling that is not so warm and fuzzy. A feeling of sadness and depression that may lead to a condition called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

Seasonal Affective Disorder is a type of depression that is related to the change in seasons. Typically symptoms start to occur at the end of fall and continue through the winter months, where energy levels decrease and a person’s mood starts to become more gloomy than usual. A desire to get out of the house slowly goes away, and a sense of sadness or loneliness starts to make an entrance into their every day lives.

One of the areas that can be greatly impacted by SAD is sleep. People with SAD often feel overly sleepy during the day and sleep longer at night. According to a study, people with SAD were seen to sleep at least two hours more every night during the fall/winter months than the spring/summer months. In another study, it also shows that people with SAD experience more nightmares and insomnia. SAD also tends to entice people to sleep more during the day which can derail their night sleep. 

If you are struggling with SAD or feeling a little blue during the fall and winter months, here are a few things you can do to help protect your sleep.

  • Track your sleep- keeping a sleep journal for 2 weeks can help you understand how your sleep routines are affecting your sleep.
  • Light Therapy-There is a lot of research that shows that light therapy can help combat the symptoms of SAD. It is suggested to sit in front of a 10,000-lux light box for 20-30 mins of a day sometime in the morning or mid-day.
  • Another option is to try a Dawn Light Simulator instead of a light box. You can set this light to turn on about 20 minutes before you ware wanting to get up. This light starts out very dim and gradually increase in brightness to help your body wake up gradually. We highly recommend trying the Phillips Smartsleep Wake-Up-Light.
  • Get outside. The sun is your friend, so if the weather permits a nice stroll outside a couple times a day, take advantage of it! Try to go outside for 30-60 minutes a day.
  • Regular Exercise-Although exercise is sometimes the last thing you want to do when you are feeling down and the weather is yucky, exercising increases endorphins and boosts a person’s mood. Make sure to get your body moving, even if it is only for 20 minutes a day.
  • Diet: Make sure to eat a variety of energy-boosting foods and try to stay away from too much sugar.
  • Self-Care: Make sure to prioritize yourself. I know a lot of times the primary caregiver tends to put the needs of everyone else above their own, and ultimately their needs get lost all together. Make sure to carve out some time to spend on yourself to fill up your cup and allow you to be more present with the ones you love.

Establishing healthy sleep habits and creating a schedule that promotes healthy sleep is also very important when battling SAD. A few healthy sleep habits include:

  • Keeping a consistent sleep schedule. Get up at the same time every day, even on weekends or during vacations.
  • Set a bedtime that is early enough for you to get at least 7 hours of sleep.
  • Don’t go to bed unless you are sleepy. 
  • Establish a relaxing bedtime routine to help let your body know that sleep is coming. 
  • If you don’t fall asleep after 20 minutes, get out of bed for 15-20 minutes and press the restart button on your bedtime routine.  
  • Use your bed only for sleep (and adult time)
  • Make your bedroom quiet and relaxing. Keep the room at a comfortable, cool temperature. 
  • Limit exposure to bright light in the evenings.
  • Turn off electronic devices at least 30-60 minutes before bedtime.
  • Don’t eat a large meal before bedtime. If you are hungry at night, eat a light, healthy snack.

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. If you or anyone you know are struggling with SAD, I hope these few tips can help. If you feel like you need additional help with your sleep needs, please reach out to us for a free 15 minute sleep evaluation!


About the author

Amanda Medley

Why didn’t we try this sooner?! As we speak he is sound asleep in his crib – and has been since 7:15 pm.

Karianne Wanggaard

Sleep Well Sleep Specialists

Don't go through another night of bad sleep.

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Working with Shannon, I went from 2-3 wake ups every night to 1 or 0. She aligned the plan with my preferred sleep cycle. She was always coaching, never judging. Shannon was great, I have referred MANY people to her! That's the best testament to her work that I can give.

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