How SAD Can Affect Your Sleep and What To Do About It

Woman holding a bunch of brown leaves up to her face.

It’s no secret that I am fascinated by the weather and how the weather can affect our moods. From the way sunshine gives us a new lease on life to the way that the “winter blues” can seemingly hit us, well, out of the blue – even those of us who are proponents of all things Autumn. The way that the weather affects us is seemingly most notable in the Autumn and Winter months. So much so that there’s even a term for it – SAD or Seasonal Affective Disorder.

What is SAD?

SAD or Seasonal Affective Disorder is most commonly referred to as the “winter blues”. It’s often dismissed as a natural part of what most of us must go through when the days become darker and colder. This mental health condition affects about 1 in 15 people in the UK. And it’s far from being a mental health disorder that should be taken lightly.

Seasonal Affective Disorder manifests itself with symptoms that are quite similar to depression. You’ll experience a greatly decreased mood as well as difficulty doing those things that are part of your day to day life at any other time of the year. And it’s not only because the days are shorter and the weather is cooler.

Sure, some of us love cosying up indoors when Autumn comes about. But if you find yourself having a difficult time between the months of September and April then you may just be afflicted by SAD.

So, Why Does SAD Come About?

As with many things in life, there is no set answer for why they happen. But what is known about SAD is the belief that it is caused by a lack of sunlight and Vitamin D during the Autumn and Winter months. This, in turn, causes problems with our circadian rhythm and affects the production of serotonin and melatonin.

Serotonin is a brain chemical (or neurotransmitter) that affects mood. Reduced sunlight may be the trigger that drops the production of serotonin which in turn can lead to depression.

Melatonin, on the other hand, is a natural hormone that regulates our sleep/wake cycle, or circadian rhythm. Which on average should function on 16 hours of wakefulness and activity and 8 hours of sleep.

Symptoms of SAD can include:

  • Oversleeping
  • Appetite changes, especially a craving for foods high in carbohydrates
  • Weight gain
  • Tiredness or low energy

Bare tree in field on very dark cloudy day.

Whom Does SAD Affect?

Seasonal Affective Disorder mostly affects females and is more common in younger adults than in older adults. It affects those of us who live further away from the equator more often than those who live closer as our winter days are much shorter. It also affects us more than those who live in places with a more temperate autumn/winter climate. And it can also affect those of us who have relatives that are also afflicted by SAD or another kind of depression.

These are all statistics based on research and accurate information. But I have personally suffered from mild to severe forms of Seasonal Affective Disorder. Even when I lived in Texas, where we are blessed with sunny days in winter and only a small fraction of the rain we get in the Northwest. I’ve seen men be affected as well, regardless of their age.

Sure, stats help but the most valuable resource that you possess is yourself.

I Suffer From SAD, do you?

The best way for most of us to know what ails us is to feel identified. I know that is definitely the case for me. Sometimes we can feel so isolated and not know that what we experience can actually be a set of universal symptoms that ails more of us than we think.

I speak about Seasonal Affective Disorder with such authority because it’s something that I have personally dealt with on and off for years.

My Seasonal Affective Disorder manifests in a slow and easy manner. I begin to feel a bit more lethargic, which I then justify as the cosiness of Autumn setting in. Cravings for “comfort food” or high carb foods set in more often than normal. I get a bit more snappy and quick-tempered. Which can, in turn, be blamed by the disruption to my sleep cycle. I become even more introverted than usual and tend to feel in a more mellow mood overall.

My symptoms may sound just like I am hibernating during winter. But as soon as my sleep cycle is disturbed I know that those seemingly “harmless” symptoms are jumping from mild to moderate and can easily then become severe.

The best way to identify if you have SAD is to see your GP. There are many ways that your doctor can identify if you have SAD. From physical exams to psychological evaluations to lab work to rule other things out, help is definitely out there. Another great option is online therapy, for example.

SAD: Woman in bed with bare feet dangling off end of the bed.

Seasonal Affective Disorder and Sleep

The biggest symptom of my Seasonal Affective Disorder is my sleeping pattern. It can vary from insomnia to hypersomnia (sleeping too much). More often than not tends to be an unhealthy mix of both. I tend to be a night owl and then end up making up for lost sleep during the day.

The one thing that I have learned about SAD and sleep is that a good sleep pattern and hygiene can make all the difference in the world.

One would be mistaken by thinking that our increased need to sleep means we are will feel more refreshed once we awaken from our slumber. This erroneous thinking can get us into an even more unhealthy sleep cycle.

The best changes that I have made to my sleep habits are the ones that have actually been the simplest to implement.

4 Things to Change

1) Despite it being cooler and you craving the cosiness of warmth, opt for sleeping in a cooler room. We sleep better in cooler environments and if you’re as obsessed as I am with the cooler side of the pillow then you now know why!

2) Keep lights and distractions such as technology out of the bedroom. Make sure the clocks are not electronic to avoid staring at the clock during bouts of insomnia. On the same note, don’t watch TV in bed or use your devices. The more you focus on making the bedroom a place for sleep the better your chances are of actually sleeping well.

3) Invest in a good mattress. They say that you should always invest in a good mattress and good shoes as you will spend most of your time in either one or the other. This is advice that I have heeded since I first heard it and advice that has been life-changing. There’s no one size fits all approach to the perfect mattress. Once you know what your body responds invest in a mattress that will give you the much-needed sleep you deserve.

4) Make sure your bedding is always clean! Clean bedding that smells good and feels good against the skin will make sleep feel like a luxurious period of the day that shouldn’t be spoilt by eating or just hanging out in bed. I prefer to use white sheets, white duvet covers, white cushions, and pretty much white everything. It gives me that luxurious hotel feel and is extremely inviting.

I Have SAD, What Now?

If you’re suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder then don’t despair as there are many things you can do to help yourself. Your doctor may prescribe medication and that’s well and good, but there are also other things that you can do to manage your symptoms.

Use a light box – light therapy or phototherapy can help you by exposing you to artificial light used to mimic natural outdoor light. By using a photolight within the first hour of waking you can cause a change to those brain chemicals that are linked to your mood.

Another alternative is to go outside! Even if it’s cloudy out your body will thank you.

Talk it out – cognitive behavioural therapy or CBT is a type of psychotherapy that can help you learn how to manage the stress caused by SAD as well as helping you find and change the behaviours that may be making you feel worse.

Practice mind-body techniques – relaxation techniques such as yoga, meditation, and art therapy can help you focus and ease your symptoms.

No matter how badly affected you are by SAD, there are always solutions to ease what you’re going through. I hope this post has helped. It would be great to hear your thoughts!

This post is in conjunction with TEMPUR® but all thoughts are my own
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