In this third part of the four-part series addressing Seasonal Affective Disorder in the winter, I will discuss some things anyone can do to mitigate the severity of SAD symptoms without needing to add medications. If you are already taking medications, these strategies may add to the benefits you may be feeling or looking to feel with your current regimen.
1.) Natural Light- align your schedule as much as possible with the sun. Wake up at sunrise, or even a little before, and spend the time meditating, stretching your body, moving your body in some other way, or even reading/listening to soft music. I don’t recommend starting your day with the news or scrolling through social media. Take the time to be alone with yourself and appreciate the sunrise before having to launch into your day. Sometimes a nice, warm beverage is great too!
a. Take every opportunity to expose yourself to sunlight throughout each day. Sit next to windows at work if you can. Take lunch breaks in your car if you must! Bundle up and go for walks or enjoy some light yardwork- anything to give you more access to light!
2.) Other options for light- amber bulbs, especially those that mimic light are preferable over LED bulbs (link: https://www.amazon.com/MiracleLED-604592-Replacing-Replicate-Organically/dp/B07DB4KWSG/ref=sr_1_4?ie=UTF8&qid=1542046093&sr=8-4&keywords=amber+light+bulbs+sunrise). They block blue light, which can be harmful for your eyes over time, and send mixed messages to your brain about how awake you should be.
a. Happy Lamps or other similar products are inexpensive and are a great idea to expose yourself to some natural-simulation light. I use one to wake up as my alarm clock, and it mimics the gradual light of the sunrise. This means a much more natural wakeup process, so by the time my alarm actually goes off I feel rested and ready to wake up. It’s great for those pre-sunrise workout wakeups!
3.) Mitigate blue light- as mentioned, blue light sends the message that you should be wide awake, which can be harmful to your eyes first thing in the morning and can keep you awake longer at night. Devices, such as TV, computer, phones, and tablets, are a major source of blue light. If you’re trying to sync your body’s rhythms up with the sun, exposing yourself to devices after dark can be a major roadblock. Since it’s getting dark by 5 pm where I’m from, screen exposure after dark is basically unavoidable. There are blue light cancelling glasses that can be worn while having post-sunset screen time in the earlier part of the evening (link: https://www.amazon.com/Blue-Light-Blocking-Glasses-Artificial/dp/B07CXYT17C/ref=sr_1_1_a_it?ie=UTF8&qid=1542046398&sr=8-1-spons&keywords=blue+light+blocking+glasses&psc=1).
a. Many electronics also have settings where light can be turned down. I have Apple products and can even set a timer each day where the light turns down to a softer amber color, which is less harmful for eyes and allows for better sleep.
4.) Go to bed earlier! This may be a challenge for many, and falling asleep earlier may be difficult at first. It may be helpful to discuss with your medical professional some vitamins or natural supplements to help you sleep. I take a magnesium gelcap before bed and I wake up feeling fairly refreshed, however it’s important to discuss this with your professional beforehand as everyone’s needs are different, and different bodies will respond differently. Plus, I’m not a medical professional. So don’t take my word for anything- do your research and speak with your doctor!
a. When it gets dark so early, it’s easy to lose track of time and go to sleep too late. This is a change to get cozy (more on that next week- I’m so excited for that part!), turn off the TV, and grab a book, put on some meditation music, and do whatever you need to do to release your day and embrace sleep.
5.) Sleep hygiene- This is important any time of year, but if you don’t want to feel like you’re losing it, it’s even more important in the winter. Some helpful tips:
a. Try to keep your phone away from your bed or in another room if you can
b. Maintain a similar routine each day, and commit yourself to it! This means avoiding sleeping late on days off, because your body needs the consistency.
c. It’s OK to say no to activities if you’re tired.
d. Don’t drink anything caffeinated in the afternoon.
e. Get cozy! Make your bedroom a sanctuary where you want to be! Do this with aromatherapy (just please don’t fall asleep with candles on!), soft sounds, soft lighting, comfy/soft blankets and pillows, and don’t do anything in your bedroom other than sleeping. Keep food and work out of your room- you have other rooms in the house that can be used for that!
f. Mitigate disturbing noise (anywhere but especially in your bedroom). At night, use theta waves and binaural beats or guided meditations to relax before going to sleep. They basically act as a massage for your brain and nervous system (I’ll get into it more on a later date). This is the only time I advocate for keeping your phone near you at night- using Youtube or apps such as Insight Timer to access these is instrumental in helping me get to sleep each night.
g. Journaling- I look at this as a “brain dump” of all the things I found myself still carrying from my day. It’s just a nice way to let it all out, process my day and package it all up so that I’m done with it (good or bad) and ready to rest before starting again the next day.
I hope this list has been helpful! Next week we’ll get into my favorite part of this series- the art of getting cozy!
Rebecca L. Toner, MA, LPC
Freer of Souls. Connector to Purpose. Healer of Lives.