My Secret to a Free Serotonin Boost….I bought myself the ‘Sun’

Winter has come again; days are shorter, nights are colder, mornings are darker.

Mood and weather often come hand in hand, especially for those who suffer with seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a form of depression that follows seasonal patterns. Most common during the autumn and winter months, reduced exposure to sunlight can affect the production of melatonin and serotonin altering the body’s circadian rhythm and leading to drowsiness, low mood and sleep disruption*. Does any of this sound familiar? Personally, on dark and gloomy days I find it increasingly difficult to get out of bed, often wanting to bury myself in the duvet and disappear in my dreams… and sometimes that is okay. However, personally, more sleep and less productivity leaves me with the weight of guilt and anxiety, further increasing my inability to complete tasks and feel positive, accomplished and in control as a result. This is the vicious cycle I have found myself in these last few months and I decided to make a change. After some research I discovered that artificial sunlight can be beneficial to those affected by the symptoms of SAD, because light exposure increases serotonin and can improve energy and alertness when waking from sleep.

So, after one particular morning when I had planned to wake up early and get a whole list of things done, but didn’t end up dragging myself out of bed until 11am, I bought myself a light alarm clock.

“No winter lasts forever; no spring skips its turn.” – Hal Borlan

These lamps have sunset and sunrise settings where the light gradually dims or brightens to mimic the setting and rising of the sun, with the added benefit of natural alarm sounds. It can be really stressful waking up to shrieking and repetitive alarm sounds found on smart phones, being jolted out of sleep by a BEEP! BEEP! BEEP! BEEP! As an alternative, these clocks have a range of gentle tunes and sounds of nature to choose from such as crashing waves or birds chirping. I don’t live in a particularly green area, so waking to the sound of birds reminds me of summer holidays and my parents home in the countryside. Plus, waking to the sound of nature makes me feel like some adventurous nomad who naturally wakes up early, rather than a sleepy and often moody student living in a metropolis.

The big question….did it improve my morning? Well, after I figured out how to adjust all the settings and fiddle with the alarm sounds and lighting, I was woken up the following morning by the artificial sunrise even before the alarm sounded. This NEVER happens. Honestly, if I don’t have an alarm set I could easily sleep for twelve hours straight, but the gently lifting light woke me gradually. I rose from sleep smoothly, and yes maybe a little grumpily, but instead of being ripped from sleep by a screeching alarm, I was stirred by the sound of birds and the rise of (artificial) sunlight. I’ve also found it really beneficial to lie in bed for fifteen minutes after waking with the light on bright to refresh and energise me enough to get up and into the shower.

Another simple but successful tip I stumbled upon when researching the ‘winter blues’ was how helpful just sitting up can be in the morning routine. Alarm sound going off? Alarm light shining bright? Sit up. This small act gets you that little bit closer to stepping out of bed. It is difficult to override, unlike clicking snooze on your phone five times whilst half asleep before deciding to finally give in. Adjusting the little things such as sunlight and sound, can make the difference between ‘waking up on the wrong side of the bed’ and waking up refreshed and positive, ready to face the day.

Grace C, MA Creative Enterprise

* https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/seasonal-affective-disorder-sad/
https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24509892/

 

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