By Ailiadh Walsh
The clocks have just gone back and once again it’s that time of the year… Hello Winter! Dark days, long cosy nights in front of the fire, Ah, the romance of it all. But it’s not that romantic for everyone.
Research has suggested that changing the clocks twice a year can have various health consequences, and with the time change for winter even though we know it’s coming, it can really mess with our daily routine and internal body clock, which in turn can throw us totally off kilter.
When you think about it our bodies are accustomed to a specific schedule, so for some, the clock change can cause disruptions to our sleep patterns among other things. Changes in time can disrupt the circadian rhythm, which is our internal body clock, this can make it hard for some to go to sleep or wake up at regular times. Our bodies require time to become used to this new routine and it may take a while for us to adjust to the new schedule, leading to disrupted sleep. It’s like our internal alarm clock needs some time to reset.
The clock change can influence our overall mood and energy levels due to our sleep patterns getting disrupted, it can make us feel groggy and tired throughout the day, which can have a negative impact on our mood.
The Importance of Sunshine
With standard time and the decrease of sunshine, levels of serotonin, the body’s “feel good” chemical in the brain, decline along with natural light, it can also influence us physically such as muscle pain or weakened bones due to an absence of vitamin D from lack of exposure to the sunlight. We might feel more irritable or less motivated, it can also have a negative impact on productivity. It takes time for our bodies to adjust which affects our focus, concentration span, and overall efficiency.
But do these long dark days in the winter months influence our mental health? Oh, yes! unfortunately for those who suffer from seasonal affective disorder (SAD) it can have a huge impact on their lives, but what is SAD and why does it affect our mood?
SAD is known as a type of depression or mood ailment that comes and goes in a seasonal pattern, so basically SAD sufferers can find the long winter days challenging and are affected by the shorter daylight hours that winter brings. Because of the shorter days and the increase in darkness, SAD sufferers can experience a decrease in serotonin. This can cause lethargy and symptoms of depression, and it can also affect your sleep and appetite, some people call it the winter blues, but it can be more than just that. These symptoms usually appear during the winter months and improve when spring arrives but can happen at any time of the year.
Scientists have discovered that long periods of darkness can play a role in many disorders from depression to diabetes. The consensus seems to be that sunlight is essential to us all, provided we can get the right dose on a regular basis, but unless you live in a very sunny country this isn’t always possible, unfortunately for SAD sufferers, living in Ireland it can at times be a very dark and gloomy time for them, especially in the winter months. SAD can often be overlooked or dismissed but there is no doubt that SAD is a common problem.
What can we do to improve SAD symptoms?
Firstly, if you think you are experiencing or showing any SAD symptoms, speaking to someone, or talking to your GP to discuss how you are feeling is a start. Finding out exactly what SAD is and conducting some research on available therapies or alternative treatments may also be beneficial. The use of cognitive behaviour therapy ( CBT ) has also been found to be helpful with SAD symptoms. CBT can help with recognising unhelpful patterns of behaviour and manage your problems by thinking more positively. For those suffering from lesser episodes of the winter blues, there are several natural alternatives out there too.
Many natural therapies can be extremely beneficial and are free and literally on our doorstep, such as improving your sleeping habits and making sleep a priority by going to bed earlier and avoiding electronic devices before bedtime, spending more time outdoors in the fresh air and soaking up as much sunshine and vitamin D as possible. Having a healthy diet and cutting back on your caffeine or alcohol intake also helps against the winter blues.
Socialising during the winter months by keeping in contact with your friends and family and generally having a good old laugh releases all those feel-good hormones and endorphins. Practising gratitude and showing kindness towards others and toward yourself is proven to benefit your health and overall well-being.