Very few things in life have consequences that are as far reaching and encompassing as failing to get an adequate amount of sleep. Benjamin Franklin is believed to have penned the phrase:
“Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.”
Bright light therapy, also known as phototherapy, is a helpful way to treat the winter blues, otherwise known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD), as well as some sleep disorders. SAD is a form of depression, occurring in the fall and winter months, when the amount of daylight and sunshine is reduced.
The average person feels a little jagged around the edges as a result of a sleepless night or even a night when the quality of sleep was less than optimal. However, a recent study conducted by the Neuroimaging Laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley has revealed that “people who are highly anxious may actually be more vulnerable” to serious anxiety issues in the aftermath of a sleepless night.
The University of California, Berkeley study scanned the brains of 18 adults (who were all in good health) on two different occasions. One was after an ordinary night’s worth of sleep and the other after a night where they were deprived of sleep. During each session, subjects were exposed to a period of prolonged anticipation of a potentially negative experience. Those who experienced sleep deprivation the night before had reactions that were significantly stronger than those who had enjoyed a more restful sleep on the previous evening. In some cases, primarily for those predisposed to anxiety, the reaction was amplified by as much as 60 percent.
Which Comes First, Anxiety or Sleep Issues?
Once upon a time it was well understood that chronic anxiety can do a real number on your ability to sleep. For a long time, it was believed that sleep problems were simply side effects of anxiety disorder. However, new research indicates that sleep deprivation can actually be the cause of an anxiety disorder. Research also indicates that patients suffering from almost any psychiatric disorder also suffer from some form of sleep disorder. People who suffer from chronic insomnia are at a much greater risk of developing some type of anxiety disorder.
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD), also referred to as the “winter blues” in its milder form, impacts roughly half a million individuals each winter, according to Mental Health America. This disorder makes its presence during the months of September through April, but peaks during the winter months of December, January, and February.
Symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
One of the hallmark signs of seasonal affective disorder is winter sleep disturbances. Among feedback from nearly 300 SAD patients, complaints of excessive oversleeping, termed hypersomnia, were made by 80 percent of the respondents, according to a study by researchers at Brigham’s and Women’s Hospital.
Aside from winter sleep hypersomnia, other symptoms of SAD include:
- excessive morning grogginess (difficulty waking up)
- difficulty staying awake
- carbohydrates cravings
- lack of energy and feeling of lethargy and fatigue
- withdrawal from family, friends, and social activities
- decreased sex drive
- weight gain
- difficulty concentrating on tasks
- not completing tasks
- feeling depressed