The other morning my hubby was sitting drinking his morning coffee looking a bit glum. “It’s hard to get motivated about the day when you draw back the curtains and it’s so gloomy and dark outside” he said.

I had to agree. The light outside the window could easily have been mistaken for late afternoon. It was grey, damp and the sky was universally drab.

It’s no surprise that many people have low energy levels on mornings like this. In fact it’s completely natural. As living creatures we’re biologically wired to respond to daily and seasonal shifts in temperature and light levels.  It makes perfect sense that in Autumn and Winter when natural light levels are lower you feel sleepier and less energetic.
In some people these feelings are more noticeable and troublesome. They experience more extreme symptoms of fatigue and low mood. This can turn into  Seasonal Affective Disorder, aptly abbreviated to SAD.
SAD is a recurrent type of depression that typically comes in the Autumn and lifts in Spring.
Although it’s not exactly clear yet what causes this condition, it’s often linked to reduced exposure to sunlight during the winter months.
How do you tell if you’ve got normal winter blues or SAD?

SAD symptoms go beyond feeling a bit low on a Monday morning or craving a duvet day now and then. They recur at similar times of year, usually in Autumn/Winter and lift as the days lengthen again in Spring.  The symptoms are similar to those for other types of depression and include:

  • persistent low mood – your mood doesn’t lift after a few hours or a day or so
  • low self esteem – you have feelings of worthlessness and inadequacy and judge yourself harshly
  • wanting to withdraw socially – you have neither the energy or the motivation to enjoy company. Your confidence has taken a dive too
  • feeling irritable – you notice that even the smallest of things can set you off
  • stress – you feel overwhelmed by everyday demands
  • anxiety – you find yourself obsessively worrying about things and imagining worst-case scenarios.
 
As well as these typical symptoms of depression, people with SAD may also notice that they have a greater need for sleep, gain weight, find it difficult to concentrate and crave sugary foods.
If you think you may be developing SAD then pay attention to how you feel. Keeping a daily diary of your mood, energy and sleep can be useful. There’s a difference of scale between a desire to hibernate in winter (after all that’s how the natural world is designed) and persistent fatigue and low mood. If you are at all concerned then visit your GP. It’s much better to take proactive action than let depression take hold.
SAD and Sleep

If you experience SAD even in its milder forms, you are likely to want to sleep more. (In fact, you don’t have to have SAD at all to crave more sleep in the winter months. It’s part of the natural cycle to hibernate!) However your sleep habits can become seriously disrupted if you start to sleep excessively.

One of the processes governing sleep is your sleep drive. The longer you’re awake the stronger the drive. Your sleep drive is at its lowest when you awake at say 7am after a decent night. As the day progresses the drive increases so that it’s strongest in the evening around bedtime.
Your sleep drive is undermined however if you sleep long hours at night, lie-in till midday at weekends and take a daytime nap. When it comes to an appropriate time to feel sleepy i.e. late evening, your sleep drive is not high enough. You stay awake into the night and of course next morning it’s a struggle to wake up.

Falling into this pattern at weekends can have a disastrous impact on your weekday sleep when you need to be at your best in the morning.

 

Sleep thrives on consistency. A poor sleep habit that you develop during the Winter may well persist into the Spring when your energy might otherwise be picking up.

 

Equally if you’re spending hours in bed asleep, or trying to sleep, then your opportunities for getting exposure to natural light and exercise are reduced. Exposure to daylight is very important in maintaining healthy sleep-wake cycles. Exercise also has a beneficial effect on mood and sleep.

You may also miss out on seeing friends and other activities that bring meaning and enjoyment to your day.

As you adapt and try your best to cope with Winter these kinds of behaviour changes combine together to create a cycle of low mood – low energy – excessive sleepiness.

Any steps you can take to protect your physical and mental health are really important right now.

If you feel that your sleep is contributing to low energy or mood this Autumn then do reach out. Book a complimentary Call and get my professional insights into the steps you can take to improve your sleep – and your overall health and wellbeing.


And please share this article with anyone you know who might need a helping hand.

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