The Circadian Rhythm Method

It’s this exact point within any given year in the northern hemisphere that plunges me into the effects of SAD (seasonal affective disorder). 

I usually start to feel the effects towards the end of October, coinciding with my birthday. It’s that wonderful convergence of the changing of the seasons and the sense of mortality that another birthday brings. 

The clocks go back an hour. This year they went back on the morning of my birthday. There’s some rather obvious symbolism there! Turning the clock back on my birthday. I am forever wanting to “turn the clock back” on my life. Reviewing the litany of mistakes, doubt and apathy. Getting too stuck in the past to move forward. I am going to change that in 2022! 

I can’t rewrite history. I can’t go back and change what has passed, but I can alter my future. I can change where I am headed. Give myself purpose and direction.

Sunrise over Glasgow 21/11/2021

The weather really does affect my mood at this time of year as well. As soon as that changing of the clocks happens it heightens the awareness of the shortening of the days. 

In a little under three weeks it will be the winter solstice. The shortest day. Sunrise around 8.50am and sunset approximately 3.40pm – roughly seven hours of daylight. It really doesn’t feel like it! The light is so dull in the winter months  – although on a sunny day it has a beauty and majesty to it. But otherwise it is, to use the title of my favourite Magazine album, “secondhand daylight”. 

I feel the days drawing in. The sunrise is incrementally later and later each morning. The sun rose at 8.26 this morning, and on the 20th it’ll rise around 8.48-8.50. Over 20 minutes of daylight lost in less than three weeks! It’s stark! 

And it mucks up my circadian rhythm too. I feel like I just can’t get enough sleep and waking up and getting out of bed in darkness feels SSOO unnatural to me – even now, after over 20 years of living in the UK. 

The past two years have been another readjustment because compared to southern England, Scotland and Glasgow get less daylight in the winter months. Most notable is the later sunrise. At the moment, compared to London, it is some 40 minutes later in difference. 

I never noticed or felt I suffered the effects of SAD when I lived in Australia. Living so much closer to the equator, and having the Tropic of Capricorn running through the top third of the country through Queensland, Northern Territory and Western Australia means that there isn’t as marked a difference in the length of days between the seasons. That also means that winter doesn’t feel any less bright than it does in summer. The difference is all felt in temperature extremes rather than changes in day length. Winter is comfortably mild with very few extremely cold days and summer is, on the whole, extremely hot and oppressive. And so you don’t feel the seasons changing so starkly in Australia – possibly with the exception of Tasmania as they are that much further south and that much more temperate in climate.  

The seasonal changes never affected my body’s circadian rhythm. 

Here in the UK my sleeping patterns can alter considerably. Summer brings the other extreme which is very, very long days. Again, the move to Glasgow means that the days are longer in summer than they are in southern England. 

I feel like I need less sleep in the summer. The almost perpetual dusk that happens between May and July means dawn feels like it’s breaking around 3.30am and the sun isn’t setting until after 10.30pm. That kind of pattern of daylight brings more alertness. It literally feels like things are “brighter”. The days are warmer. At least warm enough not to feel like you need to be in layers of clothes to keep warm. 

The sun brings a natural optimism with it. Things feel better when the sun is shining. 

I feel like I can manage with about 6 hours of sleep most of the time. I am also a natural night owl, so not only am I trying to adjust to the winter solstice and SAD symptoms, I have also been trying to alter my sleep pattern. My natural sleep pattern for a long while here in the UK was to stay up quite late – 2.30am/3.30am and sleep until around 9-9.30am. I am now sleeping between around 12.30am-1am til … I am waking up through the night. And the time I get out of bed alters. Some nights I just don’t sleep very well. I awake around 3am and just can’t get back to sleep and can be awake until 5.30am. If that happens then I don’t wake again until my alarm wakes me at 7.45am. I am usually knackered and hit the snooze button a few times. I will try and drag myself out of bed by 8.15am at the very latest. 

There can be good nights where I sleep better. I still awake through the night, but I drift back off to sleep quite easily. If that happens, I will usually awake before the alarm goes off and I can be out of bed by 7.30am. Or as it was this morning, I was out of bed by 7am. 

But it is difficult at this time of year. At 7am it is still dark. Not even a sign of dawn breaking. Whereas at 7am in the summer months, from April til September, the sun is out and that usually means I can spring out of bed, unless I have had a particularly restless night of sleep, or a late night out. 

Typing and describing the conditions in real time – I have been typing out this post since about 8.15 this morning. It is now a few minutes to 11am and only NOW does the day feel bright enough to turn the lamp light off in the room. 

The dark of the winter months really does alter my mood. I find it a very depressing time of year and it is almost entirely down to the reduced amount of daylight. Perhaps it is time for me to invest in a SAD lamp? 

I feel all the things one feels. “Blue Monday” and that the month of January lasts for what feels like about 75 days rather than the actual 31 days it has. The cold also brings with it the desire to want to snuggle up in bed under one’s covers and remain there until the sun starts to make itself better known once again.

I think hibernating animals like hedgehogs and bears have the best way of overcoming the “bleak midwinter”. 

I am not looking forward to three more months of SAD. Usually it isn’t until the end of March, when Daylight Savings comes into being do I start to feel the subsidence of the effects of SAD. It takes a bit of adjustment again. As when the clocks move forward it means once again the sun rises later than it had been a few days before, but the evening is longer. I adjust to that far quicker than I do the clocks going back at the end of October. 

Do you feel SAD symptoms? What ways do you try to combat it?

One thought on “The Circadian Rhythm Method

  1. I’m sure I experienced it a few years back (couldn’t put my finger on it but just felt really low) and actually ended up buying a Lumus (?) lamp that sits on your desk. Ive still got it in a drawer somewhere and it was quite a nice experience just sitting beside the light. Ive found that getting out for at least a couple of hours during the day is a big help. Im lucky that my job role involves me being outdoors but even on days off I go out for two hours minimum, irrespective of the weather.
    In the summer I adore the long days and look forward to them more as each year passes.
    So…, that’s my thoughts. 👍 ( Im actually going to dig the lamp out tonight to see how it feels again after reading your post)

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