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Is the Winter Weather Negatively Affecting Your Mood and Sleep?

Tuesday, November 24, 2020 8:36 AM

This time of the year can be a hard adjustment for some – moving out of the warm, sunny summer months into colder, darker days with occasionally a chance of snow. Seasonal depression, anxiety and feeling more tired than usual are all common symptoms some people experience during the change of seasons. Also, this time of year is Daylight Savings Time, which can feel like a “double whammy” if you’re already feeling down because of the weather.

Seasonal Depression

As winter approaches, it gets darker sooner, which can throw off people’s circadian rhythms that moderate our sleep and are affected by light. “Typically it is easier for people to ‘fall back’ than ‘spring forward’ as we are gaining an extra hour of sleep. However, that doesn’t mean that the end of daylight savings time is harmless and we should take measures to help ease the change. It can take a week or more for the body to adjust,” says Dr. Camelia Musleh, MD, Neurology, Sleep Medicine.

Here are some of her other suggestions on how to feel good during the seasonal change, according to Dr. Musleh:

How can you feel good as the days get darker?

  • For those of us who get winter blues, weekday nights can be an especially difficult time. You’re done with work, and a long night stretches ahead. One way to fill it? Cook dinner! Ordering in night after night can be depressing, so make it a point to head to the supermarket after work a few nights a week, and make your own dinner. Put on music, relax, and just enjoy it.
  • Stay hydrated and avoid alcohol before bed. Dehydration has been shown to cause agitation, fatigue, and general unpleasantness, so keep a large bottle of water at your desk and sip throughout the day. If you’re freezing and craving something hot, drink green tea, which is packed with antioxidants due to its high content of flavonoids.
  • Don’t be afraid to make plans—keep your winter calendar packed with things you enjoy.
  • Avoid processed and sugary foods, white flour, and artificial sweeteners, which have been proven to cause inflammation and drops in mood and energy.

Things to do before bed:

  • Avoid electronics and bright lights before bedtime.
  • Go to bed during the week at your usual times.
  • Aim for 7-9 hours of sleep.
  • As soon as you wake up, expose yourself to daylight.

For those living with depression or other mood disorders, the time change can cause a sense of dread – symbolically marking the start of the dark season. This is when Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) can set in. This disorder is characterized by recurrent episodes of depression, commonly occurring in the fall and winter. The classical characteristics of recurrent winter depression include oversleeping, daytime fatigue, carbohydrate craving and weight gain.

Other symptoms of SAD include decreased sexual interest, lethargy, hopelessness, suicidal thoughts, a lack of interest in normal hobbies and activities and decreased socialization with others.

There are ways to combat SAD though:

  • People who live with SAD often have trouble sleeping at night and getting up in the morning. Maintaining a regular schedule improves sleep, which can help alleviate symptoms of seasonal depression.
  • Light therapy may help. Sitting in front of a high-intensity fluorescent lamp (usually 10,000 Lux) in the morning for 30 mins to 2 hours can help.
  • Sometimes people respond better to an antidepressant and specialized treatment called Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT).
  • CBT teaches that negative thoughts and behaviors, while influenced by such things as a lack of sunlight, are still within a person’s ability to change.
  • Aromatherapy may also help those with seasonal disorders. The essential oils can influence the area of the brain that's responsible for controlling moods and the body's internal clock that influences sleep and appetite.
  • Schedule regular exercise. Look for activities that you enjoy.