Nothing could impact our health, mood and vitality more than a good night’s sleep. Without it, we simply can’t function at our best. Less sleep directly compromises our immune system, lowers our stamina, and allows the symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder (“SAD”) to sneak up on us.
Our sleep-wake cycle is regulated by the “drowsiness” hormone melatonin, which is produced by the pineal gland. Melatonin levels are higher in the winter due to decreased sunlight, and without bright morning sunlight it lingers longer in the morning. This makes it difficult to wake up.
Tips for Regulating Melatonin and the Sleep-Wake Cycle
Keeping your batteries replenished through the darker winter months is achieved by keeping your sleep-wake cycle similar to other times of the year. Here’s how:
- Maintain a regular sleep schedule as much as possible, even on the weekends.
- Try to get as much natural light as possible in the morning hours before 8am, to help lower melatonin levels. Sit by the window or go for a morning walk.
- Use a light box for phototherapy to help balance your circadian rhythm and combat SAD. This full spectrum light can be placed next to your bed and programmed on a timer to get brighter in the mornings, to mimic sunrise. This helps shut off the production of melatonin. However, it’s important to use light boxes according to the natural pattern of summer sunlight, because too much bright light at the wrong times can result in insomnia. So use them to stimulate dawn (6am – 8am) every morning for the duration of the winter.
- If you take melatonin supplements, do so in consultation with your physician, and take it around 8pm to avoid staying up too late, and sleeping in too late.
- Keep active with exercise! Not only does it release endorphins, serotonin and dopamine hormones to lift your mood, but tiring your body with healthy exertion will naturally contribute to a restful sleep, and keep your energy levels higher during the day.
Although melatonin is the hormone that regulates hibernation in animals, we don’t have to spend the winter months drowsy and holed up in our houses. You can maintain a healthy sleep-wake cycle through the winter, and get out and enjoy the season!