What is the winter blues, and how does it relate to Blue Monday?
In an exclusive interview with Vitabiotics, Gibson explains, “As the name implies, winter blues is a seasonal depression that occurs during the darker winter months. As well as feeling down, sufferers typically have low energy. Other signs can include the tendency to overeat and sometimes oversleep due to feeling low.
The concept that Blue Monday is “the most depressing day of the year” should be treated with caution. Rather than use it to create a self-fulfilling prophecy, it’s better used as a reminder that if you are feeling the winter blues, it is something that needs to be addressed.
Dark winter days disrupt our ability to determine day and night
Gibson highlights, “From advances in sleep science, we know that the difference between the brightness of the day, especially early morning light, and the depth of darkness at night strengthens our body clock, or circadian rhythm. This, in turn, makes it easier to get to sleep. However, the dull, grey winter days effectively blur day and night and decrease our ability to accurately track when we are supposed to sleep. This disruption in the circadian rhythm can then make it harder to get to sleep at night.
“For some, this increase in darkness is accompanied by a decrease in serotonin levels, one of our “feel-good” hormones. However, this is more commonly associated with a more severe form of depression called seasonal affective disorder.”
Tips to combat winter blues
Gibson recommends, “One area to focus on is to make sure you get outside for at least half an hour every day, which is proven to improve sleep. Also, you could consider getting something called a SAD lamp, which emits a high intensity of light that you expose yourself to first thing in the morning.
“Other areas to consider specifically during this period include making sure you exercise regularly, eating healthily, and socialising with friends and family. During the darker, colder months, all of these tend to slip. Studies have shown that reductions in each of these factors can negatively affect mood and contribute to the winter blues.”
Maintaining sleeping hygiene during the winter months
“The basic building blocks of sleep hygiene would apply irrespective of season or preferences. There are three, however, that are especially important during the winter months.
“The first is to try to get to sleep and wake up at roughly the same time each day, as this strengthens the body clock.
“Avoid using your phone in bed even with the blue light filter on, as it’s proven to both increase alertness and delay you getting to sleep at the time you planned.
“I would always advise someone to avoid the temptation to lie in bed longer, especially during the winter mornings, and instead get out of bed and get some sunlight straight away to set up their body clock for the day ahead.”
Lifestyle habits promote better sleep throughout the year
Gibson suggests, “Apart from a healthy lifestyle including a Mediterranean diet, drinking lots of water, and regular exercise, I would say learning to meditate would be at the top of my list.
“As well as reducing stress levels, meditation is a perfect way to improve your mental health and help you get to sleep more easily.
“If you are struggling with feelings of depression over a long period, also speak to your GP.”