Wellness Wednesday Tip: Getting enough sleep during the night greatly effects the functionality of our body and consequently our mood. If you have trouble falling asleep, create a “toolbox” or list of bedtime rituals that can help you relax should you find yourself restless before bed. For example: do light stretches, take a warm bath, listen to soft music, read a book, visualize a peaceful and restful place, or practice slow and deep breathing.

By Samantha M. Riedy, Registered Polysomnographic Technologist and Graduate Student, WSU Sleep and Performance Research Center

Have you noticed that your alertness changes based on the time of day, and based on the season? Two biological processes contribute to these changes in alertness. One process (called the homeostatic process) causes a pressure for sleep to build up during wakefulness. This pressure dissipates while we sleep.

The other process (called the circadian process) waxes and wanes across the 24 hours of the day. It produces a pressure for wakefulness during the day, and a pressure for sleep during the night. Our daily alertness patterns are determined by the combined effect of the two processes – the greater the combined pressure for sleep, the less alert we are and the greater the chance that we fall asleep.

The circadian process is generated by the biological clock. It is synchronized to the 24 hours of the day by the natural light/dark (day/night) cycle. The biological clock is especially sensitive to morning light.

In the Pacific Northwest, the day is noticeably shorter during the winter months, and the sun rises much later in the morning. On December 21 (winter solstice), sunrise is at 7:35am and sunset is at 4:00pm. On June 21 (summer solstice), sunrise is at 4:52am and sunset is at 8:51pm. Thus, we get approximately 7.5 hours more daylight at the beginning of summer than at the beginning of winter. Also, accounting for daylight saving time, sunrise is 3 hours and 45 minutes later during the winter holiday season.

These seasonal differences affect the biological clock, and influence our daily fluctuations in alertness. This is why you may find it more difficult to get up in the morning during the winter months.

The changes in our daily alertness patterns between summer and winter also have an impact on our mood. Some people are so sensitive to this effect that they may become depressed in the winter – a phenomenon called seasonal affective disorder (SAD). If you think you may suffer from SAD, make sure to see a doctor.

One of the possible treatments for SAD is exposure to bright light in the morning, right after getting up. A variety of bright light therapy lamps producing artificial sunlight are available these days, and lately, prices have come down considerably. Even if you don’t suffer from SAD but could use a little more positive energy during the dark days of winter, exposure to real or artificial sunlight in the morning may brighten up your days.