S.A.D. about Winter?

Well hello fellow sleep enthusiasts, it’s certainly been hectic in London recently. The weather is changing, (although isn’t it always?) The seemingly eternal fog has settled and for a working gal it appears to be dark all day. Leaving the house before 7am is akin to stepping onto the set of a tacky horror movie; no one around, eery mist swilling around the flickering lamposts and I constantly have to look over my shoulder in fear that I may not see the bus arriving through the dense morning haze.

This week I’ve been thinking about the way my body perceives the concept of day time and night time. As the hours of natural light get shorter and shorter, I never see the sun, especially if it is hidden behind a thick November cloud. The only hope of catching a few uplifting rays is a slightly chilly walk around the block in my lunch hour with the hope that the perpetual greyness may have eased somewhat.

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is now a common acronym amongst the British public and as we regretfully enter Winter we rue the day our ancestors decided that this was the land upon which they would settle. Yes, our pastures are green and our climate is temperate, but what is the price we pay for reduced hours of sunshine and temperatures which harbour bacteria, viruses and the common cold? Our (northern) North American counterparts, although most resting further South than our own fair isle, endure bitter winters with temperatures plummeting to well below freezing, factoring in wind chill, and several feet of snow. You may wonder where my jealousy stems from reading these facts as no one particularly looks forwards to wind burn, wet shoes and the constant need to shovel your driveway every morning. However, the thing that turns me green with envy is that despite needing to wear approximately seven layers of clothing, the American winters are sunny! On average, in New York city almost 50% of winter days in a month are bright compared to a total of just 50 hours of sunshine in a month in London. When you consider the statistics, it isn’t very difficult to understand how SAD has taken hold of so many of us.

With reality TV focusing on overly bronzed oompa-loompa look-alikes and the health experts urging us to step away from the tanning beds, how can I be seen to be lusting after a supposedly harmful entity? It is a raging ball of gas after all…

There is evidence to support my fanaticism and to suggest that a little sunshine is in fact healthy. Hurrah! As your body processes sunshine it productes serotonin, which we can also call the happy hormone! Seratonin is produced when we work out or eat chocolate amongst other things and it promotes a good mental outlook and can help in the fight against Seasonal Affective Disorder. It also stimulates the pineal gland which produces melatonin. This is where it gets interesting, Melatonin is one of the chemicals that operates our bodies clocks and helps with sleep function. So you see, I finally got to my point. Sunshine assists sleep and frankly in this climate I don’t get enough and thus, as usual, I’m able to blame external factors for my never ending sleep issues. Excellent.

Pseudo Dr. G has diagnosed the issue, now how do we solve it? The simple answer is get more melatonin, easy enough in theory, one could take supplements, but there are some serious side effects involved. Another beneficial nutrient the sun provides is vitamin D. Again, one could take supplements however, ninety percent of the required vitamin D comes from direct exposure to the sun. I understand now why the Spanish implement siestas, their body clocks full of rich melatonin and vitamin D from the Mediterranean sunshine are so regular, they have no option but to sleep periodically throughout the day. How my envy rises.

Before you begin your indulgence by throwing out the SPF and booking a weekend to Monaco, consider small ways in which you can give yourself more outdoors time. The human body can only store Vitamin D for sixty days, so a weekly routine of walking in the park will utimately be more worthwhile than getting all your sun hours in one blowout trip to Thailand. Plus, we all know the benefits of regular exercise not only on our general wellbeing, but on promoting restful sleeping patterns.

If all else fails, get yourself some Light Therapy, pricey but taking into consideration how much you should value a good night’s sleep, it’s a small investment.

I highly recommend you visit the following site for an official overview of the effects of sunshine, or lack of it on the human body and to find out more on light therapy: http://www.sad.org.uk/.


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