This time of year, there is a definite change in mood for many when the days get much shorter and the nights get longer. The change in daylight that we experience over the winter months is important to the cycle of the seasons for the earth and is also, believe it or not important to human beings in order to signal that the season has changed to the most barren of all (from an available food point of view). Of course, nature does not signal us in order for us to ignore that signal, but rather we must heed the signal that she is sending.
It is very important, then to focus on this phenomenon since there is a significant prevalence of seasonal affective disorder (SAD) across the developed world and furthermore, most people tend to gain weight (either slight or significant) over the winter months. Well, I’m here to tell you that I believe if we pay attention to, translate and act on the message that nature is sending us (rather clearly I might add), then we can break this cycle and create a healthier cycle and one that’s better for all in the long run.
Let’s start by taking a look at the message that nature is sending. It’s quite simple, isn’t it? When the days get shorter due to shorter daylight hours and longer dark hours, it’s clear that the growing season is over for that year. This used to be quite obvious, but technological advancements including the light bulb, refrigeration and easy access to highly processed foods have made it very easy to get high carb foods at any time during the year and to go to bed at the same time in the dead of winter as we do in the middle of summer. These all pose interesting problems to our health, performance and longevity.
Interestingly, one of the cheapest and quickest fixes that I’ve seen for winter-time weight gain and even to help prevent/deal with SAD symptoms is to go to bed around 1 hour earlier in the winter months vs. The summer months. Often SAD appears to be caused by having the same amount of awake time during the winter vs. The summer and therefore ignoring the signal that is sent by nature turning the lights off earlier in the winter vs. The summer. Through this strategy we do 2 things. 1) We dial in sleep, which is the base of my health & wellness pyramid (see link here); and 2) We start to simulate the hibernation that our bodies are looking for during the longer nights of winter. In fact, sleep is currently being studied as a potential treatment target for SAD (Wescott DL, Soehner AM and Roecklein KA, 2019).
Honestly, just try it out as best you can and see what it can do for you. Sign in and let us know how it works(ed) for you in the comments section.
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Wescott DL, Soehner AM, Roecklein KA, 2019. Sleep in Seasonal Affective Disorder. Curr Opin Psychol.