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Winter Blues and Sleep Troubles

01 Nov

Okay, so ‘tis the season to be disheartened – at least for maybe about 20% of the population, most of whom live in Northern climes and are affected by the loss of available sunlight.   About 6% of them are hit with an intense version of SAD, or Seasonal Affective Disorder. . .

 Typical symptoms are fatigue, discouragement, irritability, sadness, trouble concentrating, and changes in appetite - especially a craving for sweet or starchy foods, and - no surprise here - weight gain. There’s a marked drop in energy and a lack of motivation for doing much.  There’s often a lot of avoidance of social situations – people just do what they have to do, like go to work.

There are sleep problems too, of course. Depression is very much associated with sleeping too much, or sleeping too little, or just sleeping badly.  In fall and winter, that can take the form of oversleeping, but without feeling rested, and a kind of grogginess that permeates the day as well.  

People with SAD may spend a lot of time in bed, but that doesn’t mean they’re actually sleeping.  And many have the kind of agitated depression that yields the usual difficulties with falling asleep, or with restless or agitated sleep, or with waking up and having trouble falling back to sleep.  

Melatonin is the culprit in seasonal changes to fall/winter. That’s because the body naturally increases its production of melatonin when it starts to get dark, to help us fall asleep, so it shifts us naturally to lower energy levels and drowsiness. And because it gets darker earlier, the brain thinks it’s time for bed and kick starts its melatonin production earlier than normal.  People with SAD have longer melatonin production during the winter.

So on top of the 30% who are already getting insufficient sleep in the US for various reasons, the season of wintertime blues exacerbates that, both quantitatively and qualitatively.  More people have a sleep problem, and many of those who already have it, have it worse.   

What to do?  Well, check out our 10 ways to Conquer the Winter Blues, to make a dent on SAD, if you’re prone to suffer in that direction.  Those are some good, tried and true tips.  

And if you haven’t already tried it, see if some guided imagery or meditation can help you drop into some refreshing, restorative, dream-nourishing sleep.  It works well for a lot of people, and rather than leave you with a headache or hangover, it’s much more likely to help you wake up with a smile. 

Take care & be well.   

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Belleruth Naparstek

Psychotherapist, author and guided imagery pioneer Belleruth Naparstek is the creator of the popular Health Journeys guided imagery audio series. Her latest book on imagery and posttraumatic stress, Invisible Heroes: Survivors of Trauma and How They Heal (Bantam Dell), won the Spirituality & Health Top 50 Books Award