Post-Daylight Saving How To Tackle Seasonal Mental Health Issues

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A light box can help expose people to artificial sunlight, which can help combat seasonal mood disorders. (B. Boissonnet, Adobe Stock Photo)

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ATLANTA – You have set your clocks back for summer time, but what now?

Many people look forward to that extra hour of sleep, but it’s not enough to eradicate chronic sleep debts, said Dr. Kannan Ramar, professor of medicine at the Sleep Medicine Center at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.

However, the extra hour of rest could wake you up refreshed, which could motivate you to close your eyes, he said.

This is a great time to start implementing healthy “sleep hygiene” practices that will help you fall asleep and stay asleep faster, Ramar said.

Establish a sleep routine

He recommended sleeping around the same time each night and making sure you sleep early enough to get seven to eight hours of rest.

In the 30 minutes before bed, start by turning off the electronics to limit your light exposure, Ramar explained.

If you can’t fall asleep after 20 minutes, get out of bed and do a quiet activity like meditation, he said. This is not the time to resort to your electronics, he warned.

Avoid eating a large meal before bed and stopping your caffeine intake in the afternoon, Ramar advised. Make sure you reduce your fluid intake before bed and avoid alcohol at that time, he added.

If these tips don’t work for you, Ramar recommends talking to a doctor.

An increase in seasonal affective disorder

As the nights get longer and the weather turns gloomy in parts of the country, people can develop seasonal affective disorder. It’s a specific type of depression that often starts in the fall and ends in the spring, said Michelle Drerup, director of behavioral sleep medicine at the Cleveland Clinic Sleep Disorders Center in Ohio.

Some common symptoms include irritability, extreme fatigue, inability to focus, cravings for carbohydrates, anxiety, and withdrawal from social activities, she said.

The time change from the end of daylight saving time can trigger SAD, Drerup said.

A study published in 2017 found that the number of seasonal depressive episodes increased by 11% at the end of daylight saving time.

Exposure to light increases the mood

People with seasonal affective disorder should try to get exposure to bright, natural light whenever possible, said Dr. Bhanu Prakash Kolla, an addiction psychiatrist and sleep specialist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. The light rays increase the release of the neurotransmitter serotonin, known as the “happiness hormone”.

Those in more gloomy parts of the country can use a light box to mimic sunlight, he said.

If you notice symptoms of seasonal affective disorder affect your functioning significantly for more than two weeks, Drerup recommends seeing a doctor. A doctor can help diagnose, assess other possible health conditions, and create a personalized treatment plan.

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