Wednesday 5 October 2011

Fall makes me S.A.D. Two things that help, a lot.

Its Vancouver, its October, so its raining again today. I know Im not alone in  feeling the effects of shorter days, darker days. We're not quite there yet but I absolutely hate waking up in the deep dark. My alarm jerks me up out of deep sleep and I feel like a little kid again, cranky and unbelieving that it can be almost 7 am and yet so horribly like the middle of the night. It sets me up for a bad day.

I'm very sensitive to the quality of light, and the grey days and thin sunshine of fall and winter do little to help elevate my mood. I sometimes have to struggle not to just curl up on the couch with a blanket, something warm in a mug and watch Coronation Street all day. Don't get me wrong, I think that's a lovely thing to do once in a while, but when I feel like that most days, its easy to sink into something near depression. I don't want to just get though winter, longing for solstice, I want to feel better than that.

To make things worse, I don't want to go to bed at night. I feel like Ive been cheated out of my day, so I tend to be up late playing on the computer, or catching up on a show. Not a good thing for promoting sleep. There is a complex interaction between full spectrum light, receptors on your retina and regulation of sleep hormones in your brain. New information is being discovered all the time, but for now, one of the things we do know is that blue light suppresses melatonin secretion so that we stay alert. That's great when we need to stay awake but my (our) tendency to sit in front of blue light emitting gadgets in the evening can disrupt our sleep hormone cycles. Blue light is emitted by TV screens, computer monitors, smart phone screens and even blue numbers on your digital clock.

So... Im disrupting my sleep hormones, not getting enough sleep, and feeling horrible from waking up in the dark. I do the things you are supposed to do, go to the gym, be social, eat well, take my Vitamin D, but still feel pretty down through much of the winter. But, happily,  I found a couple of things last year that helped a lot to get me to sleep and to make me wake up happy.

The first was to install a free program on my computers called F.lux. You tell the program where in the world you live and what kind of room lighting you have (halogen or fluorescent). At sunset, f.lux automatically cuts down on the amount of blue light your monitor emits and matches your ambient light. At sunrise, it makes the screen daylight-bright again. So now I can play on the computer and not worry that it's going to make it hard to go to sleep.

The second and now most deeply appreciated thing I did was to buy a Philips wake-up light. Also known as a dawn simulator, its a lamp that sits on my bedside table and gradually emits brighter and brighter light over a period of 15-30 minutes (you choose). The increasing light level brings me to a lighter and lighter phase of sleep and I wake up, usually before its even at its brightest, feeling awake and happy.

They aren't cheap but, for me, totally worth it. I got the Philips because a friend had had one for a few years and recommended it, and because it got the highest ratings, but there are lots of wake-up lights out there. I got mine from (Canadian, eh) but they are also available on (Clicking the Amazon link will take you directly to the Philips Wake-Up Light Plus - my model - on each site).

I know I sound like a paid advertisement for this thing, but the first night I used it I couldn't believe what I was feeling the next morning. I woke up with the feeling that it was a sunny summer day out there. A year later, I still get fooled into that happy state.

If you have that "it's too dark to get up" feeling, do yourself a favour and get one of these; you will never regret it. To wake up happy is a beautiful thing.


  1. Wow! TIL about the power of light. Our brains are pretty smart, eh? You just can't fool them. The light has to be at the right time and of the right quality for our sleep centers to be happy.

  2. k that's really interesting. i've heard of, like happy lights that can simulate sun and they're good for replacing the flourescent crap in offices, but this is new. i will have to check it out a bit. i suffer greatly from SAD, it's almost debilitating so options to support myself would be good.

  3. @emman, I hope it works for you. Its just one more trick in my arsenal to fight the winter blues. I can't tell you what a difference waking up in a happy frame of mind does, it just puts a different spin on the whole day.

    I have a friend who also uses a blue light during the day and she is reporting feeling good despite our rainy weather and the economy, so thinks it's helping. You might wish to check that out too. I'm going to and will report back once I see what it does for me.

    Good luck.