As the days draw in and the nights become longer, most of us feel like retreating into the warm. It is not unusual to feel like a few extra hours in bed rather than face a dark morning and to feel sleepy as the light fades. In the summer the long days encourage us to stay up later, or even rise earlier.
Our mood may be affected by the seasons and the change in light. Feeling mellow and low as the evenings draw in may be nature’s way of helping us adjust to the changing seasons. Light summer mornings and long warm evenings make us feel more energetic and cheerful.
For some people darkness brings more than seasonal gloom. SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) is sometimes called ‘winter depression’. Sufferers feel depressed and exhausted as daylight light decreases and many find it hard to function and carry on their normal lives. The condition is more common in women and the young.
Feeling low and depressed the sufferer may sleep more or less than usual. Light Boxes use bright light therapy to relieve symptoms associated with lack of sunlight.
However, sleep problems may be seasonal and relate to changes in routine rather than a sensitivity to lack of sunlight. SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) is not strictly a sleep disorder, as the amount of light seems to be the main cause of feelings of depression and any associated sleep problems. Circadian Disorders often make the sufferer feel ‘out of step’ with normal waking and sleeping hours. They are often sleeping and waking at different times to their family and friends and may have adjusted their work and routine to accommodate their sleeping habits.
Most people adjust to the changing seasons and manage to get enough sleep for their needs. Children are less affected by light and noise and usually sleep well regardless of the season.
Many adults sleep better in darkness and in a comfortably cool room. By making adjustments to the sleeping environment – blackout blinds, light bedding and open windows in summer and more warmth and clothing in winter – it is possible to have good nights sleep in all seasons.
Changes of mood relating to the changing seasons are natural. Sleep is strongly affected by light and as we have evolved we have needed to make adjustments to our sleeping pattern. We would do very little if we slept when it became dark in the winter! By going against our natural instincts we need to ensure that our sleep is sufficient during all seasons. After all, it would be a pity if we couldn’t have the occasional lie in on a cold winter’s day, or enjoy a late sunset on a warm summer’s night!