A sleep expert has emphasised the importance of maintaining a healthy sleep schedule to combat the negative side effects of seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
James Higgins, CEO of Ethical Bedding, the UK’s only BCorp-accredited sustainable bedding company, says that as the date the clocks change approaches (29th October), now is the optimal time to start addressing habits that might be disrupting your natural sleep pattern.
“SAD is believed to affect around 2 million people in the UK and more than 12 million people across northern Europe. But it’s more than just having the ‘winter blues’,” said James.
“The changing patterns of light and darkness can significantly impact your circadian rhythm – the natural internal system designed to regulate feelings of sleepiness or alertness over a 24-hour period. Light, sensed by our eyes, informs the brain’s primary timekeeping component, known as the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN), on how to adjust this internal clock.
“Additionally, natural light sends signals to the brain to help regulate sleep, hormone levels, and control functions like our sleep schedule, hormone release, and temperature.”
James went on to reveal that irregular sleep, whether it’s inconsistent bedtimes, poor sleep quality, or sleep deprivation, can further disrupt the already misaligned circadian rhythm experienced during the SAD-prone months.
“SAD symptoms can be intensified, and in turn, these symptoms can lead to even worse sleep,” he said.
To address the issue, James is urging people to understand the intricate relationship between light exposure and sleep. He advises prioritising sleep schedules, seeking morning light exposure, and considering light therapy to help individuals recalibrate their internal clocks.
James said: “Ensuring a consistent sleep schedule, even on weekends, can provide significant benefits. Going to bed and waking up at the same time daily can stabilise our internal clock and improve overall mood. This is especially crucial during the winter months when SAD symptoms are at their peak.”
To further support James’ advice, he has shared some top tips on maintaining a healthy sleep schedule:
- Prioritise natural light. Spend time outdoors during daylight hours. If that’s not possible, consider using a light therapy box that mimics natural sunlight.
- Establish a routine. Create calming pre-sleep rituals, such as reading or meditating, to signal to your body that it’s time to wind down.
- Limit screen time. The blue light emitted by phones, computers, and TVs can interfere with the production of the sleep hormone melatonin. Try to avoid screens for at least an hour before bed.
- Create a sleep-friendly environment. Ensure your bedroom is dark, quiet, and cool. Consider using blackout curtains, earplugs, or a white noise machine if necessary.
- Consider replacing your current pillows. Trying to fall asleep at the end of a busy day can feel infinitely more difficult if your bedding is uncomfortable and ill-prepared to help you doze off into a cosy slumber. Your pillows are particularly important and should offer sufficient support to your neck and provide a cool place to rest your head.
- Be mindful of diet. Limit caffeine, alcohol, and sugar intake, especially in the hours leading up to bedtime.