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March is here. Clocks are about to spring forward. And longer, warmer, happier days are right around the corner again.
Or are they?
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a fairly common affliction. But winter doesn’t have the market cornered on depression and anxiety. In fact, you may be surprised to learn that springtime can be even more dangerous if you suffer with depression.
Because here’s the little-known truth…
Suicides spike in the springtime
With all the focus on post-holiday depression, no one could fault you for expecting your mood to flip like a switch the moment spring arrives. And for a lot of people, it does… just not always in the way you might think.
Statistics don’t lie—and as it turns out, spring is actually the most dangerous season for depression sufferers. Experts refer to this phenomenon as reverse seasonal affective disorder, or “Summer SAD.” And the data shows that suicide rates spike in the spring, with the upswing beginning in early April and lasting into early summer.1
There are many reasons why this might be the case. Some researchers theorize that the longer, warmer days can boost the mood of sufferers just enough to motivate them toward self-harm. Or, alternatively, not feeling better despite the warmer, sunnier days—especially if everyone around you is happy—may drive people with depression to an even deeper sense of despair.
But there are also more biologically based theories—like the fact that seasonal allergies trigger a marked increase in inflammation, which aggravates mental illness. Or how an increase in air pollutants may have detrimental effects on the brain and behavioral responses.
In the end, all of these factors are likely to contribute to the phenomenon of reverse seasonal depression. But today, I’d like to talk about what I consider to be one of the most obvious explanations. And it’s the same thing that makes the transition to winter challenging, too.
Circadian disruptions drive anxiety, depression, and Alzheimer’s
Seasonal time changes throw a monkey wrench right into your body’s natural circadian rhythms. As I explained in the March 2018 issue of Logical Health Alternatives (“The deadly cost of a broken body clock”), just one lost hour of sleep carries potentially lethal consequences for your heart the day after clocks spring forward. (Not to mention your risk of diabetes and cancer over the longer term.)
But a disrupted body clock can spell disaster for your mental health, too. And recent research provides one potential reason why longer days aren’t always happier.
Scientists presented a handful of studies on the role of circadian rhythms in brain health at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience this past November. And they all underscored the vital importance of regular sleep-wake cycles among an array of seemingly unrelated brain disorders.2
Most notably, they identified some of the neurological changes that underlie anxiety in patients who aren’t getting adequate, deep sleep. This suggests that circadian disruptions are a key culprit behind overstressed brains.
They also identified the role of a specific circadian rhythm gene in brain cells called astrocytes—leading researchers to propose that disruptions in this department trigger brain inflammation (which, by the way, can trigger Alzheimer’s disease).
But do you know what else has ties to brain inflammation? Depression and suicide.
Ultimately, scientists suggest turning to sleep-focused therapies—with the goal of restoring regularity to the body’s circadian clock—as a potential treatment for brain diseases like anxiety disorder and Alzheimer’s. And I couldn’t agree with them more.
But whipping your body clock back into shape requires a little more than uninterrupted nightly sleep. The most effective strategy also involves paying more attention to what you’re doing during the day.
How to survive another changing season
I’ve shared strategies to re-align your circadian rhythms here before. But with the end of daylight savings just days away, this is the perfect time to revisit them:
1.) Keep it dark at night. One of the biggest sleep disruptors is blue light—from your television, computer, tablet, or phone. This light sends a signal to your pineal gland, instructing it to stop generating the sleep hormone melatonin. In turn, this keeps your brain awake and active, setting the stage for a night of tossing and turning.
That’s why eliminating exposure to electronics is particularly important before bedtime. (At the very least, you can switch on the nighttime feature on your devices—so that the screen automatically becomes dimmer and switches to a warmer hue.)
Another thing you might want to consider is avoiding shopping in the evening hours. That’s because a lot of stores have switched to using blue LED lights to keep things brighter.
Outdoor lighting can also mess up your natural sleep-wake cycles. I recommend taking steps to minimize your exposure with black out shades or a sleep mask.
2.) Get plenty of sunshine in the morning. One thing you should get is more sun exposure in the morning, and throughout the day. Making a point of opening up the shades and getting outside after sunrise will ensure that your body is getting its “wake up” signals when it needs them… which ultimately helps when it’s eventually time to wind down.
3.) Exercise—any time of the day will do. It doesn’t matter whether you’re inside or outside, either. (Though why not take advantage of the warm spring weather?) Laboratory research shows that exercise helps stabilize circadian rhythms in older mice. Research also shows that younger mice who stop exercising suffer the same circadian disruptions as their older counterparts.3
For my tips on the best type of exercises for your health, see pages 5-6.
4.) Take melatonin until your sleep schedule gets back on track. Your usual 10 o’clock bedtime suddenly becomes a tall order when your body still thinks it’s 9. And even mild struggles getting to sleep can send your body into a tailspin. So don’t be afraid to supplement when you need it.
I recommend a starting dose of 3 mg—and never more than 15 mg—an hour before bedtime as needed.
If you find your sleep issues don’t resolve within a week or so, you may need to take a more in-depth look at potential causes—and solutions. For my comprehensive recommendations, check out my Perfect Sleep Protocol. You can learn more about it or enroll today by clicking here, or calling 1-866-747-9421 and asking for order code GOV3V303.
These sensible lifestyle interventions can go a long way in helping you not only combat seasonal depression—but a whole host of health concerns—ANY time of year. And that’s a sentiment that can certainly help you sleep at night… literally.
- “Seasonality of suicidal behavior.” Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2012 Feb; 9(2): 531–547.
- “Disrupted circadian rhythms may drive anxiety and exacerbate brain disorders: New studies reveal critical role of healthy sleep and powerful role of circadian rhythm regulation in the brain.” ScienceDaily, 11/05/2018.
- “Lack of exercise leads to significant and reversible loss of scale invariance in both aged and young mice.” Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2015 Feb 24;112(8):2320-4.