As a continuation to last week's "Beating the Winter Blues Part 1", in this blog we will look at the relationship between light, melatonin, sleep and mood. Included, are 5 easy, realistic changes you can make to prevent and manage the winter blues to thrive till spring.
Next week we will look at supplements and herbs that benefit sleep, and mood during the winter season.
Melatonin, a hormone that promotes sleep, is regulated by light and darkness. The night time darkness allows us to produce more melatonin and get sleepier, while daytime light suppresses melatonin and allows us to feel more awake.
Because our bodies and biological clocks are tuned to the rising and setting of the sun through hormones like melatonin, during the winter, as night approaches earlier we tend to feel drowsy earlier, while in the gloomy winter mornings it becomes harder to get up.
Establishing a healthy sleep regimen that gives consistent signals to our biological clocks allows us to achieve better rest, wake up more refreshed and feel less doom despite the winter gloom.
5 ways to establish a healthy sleep regimen
1. Take a walk: This is an easy, cheap and effective way to get more sun exposure during the day to ward of the winter depression, plus it has the added benefit of helping you get more exercise. In fact, A study published in the Journal of Affective Disorder has found that natural light exposure in the form of a 1 hour morning walk was able to improve symptoms of depression associated with SAD when compared with artificial light therapy.
2. Establish regular bedtime hours. According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, the most important hours for rest and restoration are between 10:00pm to 2:00am, So decide on a bedtime that is realistic for you (ideally before 11pm) and go to bed at that time consistently.
3. Turn off your electronic devices and reduce your screen exposure 1-2 hours before bed. This is one habit that I am personally guilty of and is common amongst my patients. Exposure to light emitted from the screens of TVs, ipads, computers and phones suppresses melatonin and really mess with our sleep and mood. Studies in Sweden, Japan, Saudi Arabia and Finland have all found a link between late night electronic use, sleep disturbance, depression and lower measures of well-being. In light of this (pun intended) try to keep your pre-bedtime screentime to a minimum.
4. Start winding down 30 minutes to 1 hour before bed. Some great alternatives to late night screen time include taking a warm bath, breathing exercises or meditation, light reading and/or listening to some gentle music.
Note: For those who insist on sending out a last minute email or playing a final round of candy crush, Twilight by Urbanandroid is an app that provides a filter for blue light (a wavelength of light that suppresses melatonin and conflicts with our biological clocks) to support healthy sleep.
5. Darken your bedroom. Not only is screen exposure disruptive of sleep, so is ambient light. Even a small amount of light (ex. Flashing power lights or glowing alarm clock numbers)can disrupt melatonin production and potentially interrupt sleep. Use blackout curtains and block excess light at night.
Making change is never easy, so start small by choosing one or two of the 5 recommendations and build a healthy sleep routine gradually. Happy snoozing!
Stay tuned next week for supplements and herbs that help beat the winter blues!