(CNN) — Some people may have thought about the extra hour of sleep after Daylight Saving Time ends, but for millions, the shorter days and longer nights are another reminder of the arrival of winter (blues).
Seasonal Affective Dysfunction is a type of despair that occurs in late fall and winter and is linked to a lack of daylight.
Having shorter days and longer nights in fall and winter can disrupt a 24-hour clock inside our body, known as the circadian rhythm. This clock regulates several bodily processes and is influenced by the day-night cycle, circadian rhythm expert Joseph Takahashi, professor and chair of the division of neuroscience at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, said by email. Disrupted circadian responses can affect brain regions involved in mood, causing fatigue and low energy due to lack of sleep.
Taking care of your well-being is essential to dealing with seasonal affective dysfunction. Here’s what experts say you can do to manage seasonal affective dysfunction. Remember to talk to your medical provider before starting any new treatments.
Try a gentle and lively treatment
Light therapy is the reference therapy for seasonal affective dysfunction. This involves exposing yourself to a light field of at least 10,000 lux for at least half an hour. (Lux is a unit of measurement for gentle depth.)
“A very sunny day is 50,000 to 100,000 lux,” said Dr. Jason Tucciarone, a professor of psychiatry at the Stanford College College of Drugs. Although you will need to purchase a lightweight box with a shallower depth, you will have to spend more time sitting in front of it.
There are two methods by which a light field helps with seasonal affective dysfunction. First, mimicking outdoor light corrects the internal clock out of sync with the shorter days in winter. Another method is to increase levels of serotonin, a mental chemical involved in mood balance.
You should use the sun field at all times, but using it in the morning can provide you with extra energy for the rest of the day. “Look away and do something where you’re sitting in the sun, whether that’s eating breakfast, reading the news or something that will keep you occupied for half an hour,” Tucciarone said. Make sure you stay 2 to three feet away from it and don’t look directly into the field, as 10,000 lux can damage your eyes.
Invest money in a dawn simulator
These kinds of alarm clocks imitate pure daylight. As you get up, the sunshine will steadily increase in depth.
Some research suggests that dawn simulators may be just as effective in reducing depressive symptoms. They could be a great addition to your soft field treatment, Tucciarone said, because you can be exposed to light as soon as you get up without straining your eyes.
Prioritize sleep in the evening
Thomas Kilkenny, a sleep specialist at Northwell Health in New York, stressed the importance of getting enough sleep. Lack of daylight from shorter winter days can disrupt our internal clocks that tell us when it’s time to wake up and when it’s time to relax. A disrupted sleep schedule could cause insomnia and extreme daytime sleepiness.
Be prepared to go to bed an hour before you leave, Kilkenny is very helpful. Dim the lights, use the restroom, and avoid arguments or emotional conditions where you will burn out. Additionally, avoid using electronic devices when you begin to relax, as they will make it more difficult to fall asleep.
“Phones and computers have a bright light that can trick your mind into thinking it’s daytime,” Tucciarone said.
Finally, he suggested having a stable sleep schedule, which involves going to bed at the same time every night and waking up at the same time every morning.
Go for a walk outside
Exercise works as a mood booster because it releases chemicals like serotonin and endorphins to make you feel good and cope better with stress. Even low-impact exercise equivalent to a brisk 10 to 15 minute walk can improve depressive signs.
Going outside for a short walk will be even more helpful, Kilkenny said, because you’ll be exposing yourself to bright light at the same time.
If you are going to work out, Kilkenny is very helpful to do it in the morning rather than the evening. “Knowing a few hours before bed will actually raise your body temperature, which is a bad idea,” he said.
Socialize with different people
Want to hibernate for the winter? Social isolation is prevalent among people with seasonal affective dysfunction, and isolation may contribute to depressive symptoms. Recently, an American surgeon reported that being socially disconnected was as dangerous to your health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
“Socialization is absolutely necessary to address the issues as a whole,” Tucciarone said. “Isolating yourself won’t be good for your mood.” Chances are you don’t really feel up to a party or dinner, but even a small amount of company could make a difference. One suggestion from Tucciarone is to have a buddy with you when you go for walks outside.
Obtain medical advice
Cognitive behavioral therapy allows people with seasonal affective dysfunction to develop an awareness of what they are experiencing, identify negative ideas and give them ways to replace the ideas with more optimistic ones, said Lucian Manu , psychiatrist at Stony Brook Drugs in New York. .
Cognitive behavioral therapy might also be easier than gentle therapy to stop remissions. One study found that six weeks of cognitive behavioral therapy helped reduce depressive symptoms and reduced the chances of developing seasonal affective dysfunction the following winter.
Antidepressants are an alternative choice that Manu is very helpful for people suffering from extreme seasonal affective dysfunction. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, for example, work to increase serotonin levels, which can help improve mood. One popular prescription is bupropion, which Manu says helps manage increasing sleep (including appetite and weight) for people with seasonal affective dysfunction.
Jocelyn Solis-Moreira is a freelance health and science journalist based in New York.
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