Categories: Health and Wellness

How the Winter Blues Can Affect Your Sleep Quality and Quantity

Cleveland Clinic reports that nearly half a million people in the U.S. suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) in winter while an additional 10 to 20 percent of the population suffer from a milder form of the condition, called “winter blues.” More than three-quarters of those who have the condition are women, and symptoms begin setting in early in adulthood.



What are the Winter Blues?

The winter blues is a common condition many people experience at some point during the colder, darker winter months. It is hallmarked by a mood shift or slight, brief depression that occurs in conjunction with a distinctive lack of sunlight, spending too much time indoors, and shorter days of winter. While you may understand the feeling all too well, what you may not know is that it has a profound effect on other areas of your life, including:

  • Sleep quality and quantity
  • Productivity
  • Quality of life
  • Participation in average activities

While the symptoms and effects of winter blues may not be as pronounced and severe as those of SAD, that doesn’t make them any less notable or disruptive to your life and routine. Learning to recognize and manage winter blues can greatly improve your life throughout the winter season.

Are Winter Blues and Seasonal Affective Disorder the Same Thing?

While winter blues can leave your mind singing “the thrill is gone,” on an endless loop, Seasonal Affective Disorder can leave you feeling as though the thrill will never return. It is the hopelessness and the staying power of SAD that sets it apart from standard winter blues.

Most people who have Seasonal Affective Disorder have experienced symptoms for at least two weeks or longer, and may have much more profound senses of despair, depression, and even worthlessness.

While the two conditions are not the same things, there are similarities that should not be ignored or overlooked. Additionally, people with Seasonal Affective Disorder tend to withdraw from their social circles, preferring to stay home alone, and dwell on their own despair. If this sounds familiar, you may have the more serious condition of SAD rather than winter blues.

What Causes the Winter Blues?

The scientific theory behind winter blues is that the it’s the result of less exposure to sunlight in winter. Winter is a trifecta for winter blues. In addition to fewer hours of daylight in the day, there is the additional fact that people spend more of their winter hours indoor, away from the cold. Top it off with the fact that people get less exercise during these times, and there is plenty to get the blues about.

Additionally, people who have SAD are unable to regulate serotonin in the way that others do. Since serotonin is essential for balancing mood, this can be a real downer for those who are already struggling in winter.

What are the Symptoms of the Winter Blues?

While winter blues and SAD share many of the same symptoms, the symptoms of SAD are generally stronger or more pronounced and last longer than symptoms of winter blues. They include:

  • Sadness
  • Fatigue (some describe it as extreme fatigue or outright exhaustion)
  • Weight gain – increased appetite and intense carbohydrate cravings
  • Anxiety and irritability
  • Loss of interest in and withdrawal from usual and social activities
  • Lack of focus, unable to concentrate on work or school

While not symptoms, it is worth nothing that the bulk of people with winter blues and SAD are women between the ages of 18 and 30. While both men and women, young and old can experience SAD, 75 percent of patients are women in the 18 to 30 age range.

How Does Winter Blues Affect Sleep Quality and Quantity?

The lack of sunlight in winter can play havoc with your ability to produce sufficient amounts of serotonin and melatonin. Since both hormones are instrumental in regulating mood, sleep, and wakefulness, lower levels of the hormones, related to less exposure to the sun’s vitamin D producing light, can result in an inability to not only get the quantity of sleep you require, but also the quality of sleep you desire. The result is hours of exhaustion and ineffectiveness at work during the day, and an inability to fall asleep or remain asleep at night.

While the winter blues are certainly nothing to dismiss, it isn’t as destructive to mental energy and overall mood as SAD. If you suspect either, the odds are good that one of the first places you’re feeling the sting is in the quality of your sleep.

Tips to Beat the Winter Blues

The winter blues are much easier to overcome than SAD. There are several things you can do that will help in your efforts to shake the winter blues, including:

  • Learn to love outdoor snowy day activities. This can be ice skating, skiing, snowboarding, skimobiles, tubing, etc.
  • Go for that winter hike. Even if you don’t live in a snowy region, that doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty to do outside in winter, including hiking in the woods.
  • Plan a winter vacation somewhere warm and sunny. This can be instrumental in getting over the post-holiday slump.
  • Consider bright light therapy. While it is highly effective for treating SAD, providing relief in as many as 70 percent of patients who use it faithfully, according to the National Institutes of Health, the problem is compliance. It requires a significant commitment of time spent sitting in front of a very bright light daily – something many people are loath to do.
  • Exercise daily. People who exercise frequently experience a rush of endorphins that tell your brain you are happy. This will help diminish the impact of winter blues in a really big way.
  • Invest in a quality mattress. It may also help to invest in a supportive and comfortable mattress, such as a natural latex mattress or memory foam mattress. Making your bed welcoming can help you sleep more restful and feel more refreshed for your day.
  • Keep a predictable sleep schedule. Even if you aren’t falling asleep right away, keep the routine and work to convince your brain it’s time to sleep – and then to wake up at the same time in the morning.

Using more of these tips throughout the winter can help you prevent the onset of symptoms, eliminate concerns over worsening symptoms, and learn to find joy in the winter, rather than singing the blues.

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    Amber Merton

    Amber Merton is an accomplished writer on the topics of green living and sleep. Her work has been covered in numerous online publications. Amber has been a regular author on the PlushBeds blog for the past 7 years.

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