CNN — Winter is coming.
For some, that phrase may stir up bad memories of the final season of “Game of Thrones,” but there is a greater risk with the changing seasons: seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
The days are getting shorter with fall in full swing and winter right around the corner. With the changing seasons, people are at a higher risk for SAD, which is a type of depression that comes and goes with the seasons. SAD typically starts in the late fall or early winter and goes away in the spring or summer, according to the National Institute for Mental Health (NIMH).
“As Daylight Saving Time comes to an end and the darker, shorter days of winter begin, it is important to remember the impacts that this time of year can have on sleep health and the body,” Mark Aloia, a psychologist specializing in sleep medicine, tells CNN. “Some people can find it difficult to adjust to the change. This is because the body’s circadian system — which helps balance and indicate a person’s sleep cycle with cues from the environment, including sunlight and darkness — is disrupted. Many times, inadequate, disrupted sleep can lead to less productivity throughout the day, and even affect people in ways they may not predict — from sleep deprivation to seasonal affective disorder.”
Luckily for you, we live in an age where research, technology and innovative products have been developed to help combat those seasonal blues. First, you should speak to a doctor and do your own research to see what the best possible solution for you may be, but here are a few ideas to help get you started.
The benefits of sunlight have been well documented, with vitamin D production being among the most well-known benefits. The NIMH even cites vitamin D as being one of the major types of treatment for SAD.
However, with the sun beginning to rise later, you may be greeted with darkness instead of the sun during the winter months when you wake up in the morning.
With a wake-up light, you’re able to simulate the rays from the rising sun flooding your room to help gently wake you up instead of having your sleep suddenly disturbed by a blaring alarm clock.
“While it can take time, and be hard to adjust, there are ways to adapt to the time change,” Aloia said. “Research shows that people do best when they rise with light. In fact, studies have shown that exposure to bright light in the morning can help people wake up feeling more ready for their day. During these fall and winter months when there is less exposure to sunlight, it can be helpful to counteract the effects of lost sunlight with bright, artificial light therapy.”
There are multiple wake-up lights on the market.
If you’ve been resistant or slow to the idea of embracing a smart home, this might be the time to reconsider.
You don’t have to go all-in and buy every gadget, device or appliance for your home. You can help combat those seasonal blues with two simple devices: A Google Home or Alexa-enabled device and some smart light bulbs.
Google has a gentle sleep and wake feature that you can enable to bright or dim your lights and Google recommends using Philips Hue light bulbs in conjunction with this feature.
Symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder
- Having low energy
- Weight gain
- Craving for carbohydrates
- Social withdrawal (feel like “hibernating”)
Source: National Institute of Mental Health
With gentle sleep, you can set your lights to a warm white color and have them slowly dim over 30 minutes to help you fall asleep.
Like a wake-up light, you can use the gentle wake feature to brighten your lights over a period of 30 minutes to imitate the rising sun.
Light therapy boxes are one of the most commonly used products to help combat SAD, according to the American Psychological Association (APA).
These boxes emit bright lights to simulate natural outdoor light, and as little as 30 minutes near these lights could potentially have beneficial effects for those affected by SAD, according to Dr. Charles Raison.
“The most widely used and extensively investigated treatment for SAD is light therapy (i.e., daily exposure to bright artificial light during the symptomatic months),” Dr. Kelly Rohan wrote in a study for the APA. “Light therapy devices rigorously tested in clinical trials for SAD emit a controlled amount of cool, white fluorescent or full spectrum light with a built-in screen to filter out harmful ultraviolet rays.”
Most light therapy boxes emit light at an intensity of 10,000 lux, which is the intensity of the sun at midday. Although, studies have shown that lower intensity light sources could potentially be used to reset the biological clock for some people.
Research shows that people do best when they rise with light. In fact, studies have shown that exposure to bright light in the morning can help people wake up feeling more ready for their day.
–Mark Aloia, psychologist
A good night’s rest can be critical to good health, and weighted blankets have been growing in popularity for people with insomnia and anxiety.
“After struggling with insomnia, I was looking for a natural sleep solution and through my research I came across the medical science of putting weight on the body, which can help people sleep better in a natural way,” Kathrin Hamm, CEO and founder of weighted blanket company Bearaby, told CNN. “I found that weighted blankets have been around for more than 60 years now and studies have found that the feeling of weight on the body reduces stress and anxiety levels, and give users the deepest, most restful sleep.”
Hamm points to a study published in Harvard Women’s Health Watch, which delves into how weighted blankets have been used to provide benefits for people with insomnia and anxiety.
“The studies highlights how a weighted blanket basically simulates a comforting hug, in theory helping to calm and settle the nervous system,” Hamm says.
“Medical research has shown that sleeping under weight makes us sleep and feel better, decreasing cortisol levels, easing tension in mind and body.”
Weighted blankets may not be for everyone, but there is a low cost of risk associated with trying it. What may not work for some could be the solution you’ve been looking for all along.
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