How Are You Affected by Shorter Days and Longer Nights?

How Are You Affected by Shorter Days and Longer Nights?

On this chilly December day, I’m noticing how dark it is so early in the evening – or more like late afternoon. Darkness is a signal that it’s nighttime, and as someone who likes to go to sleep early – like a parakeet whose cage has been covered – I’m finding myself having a difficult time staying awake past 9pm.

It has me thinking about the ways our routines, habits, and outlook are affected by the change in the earth’s cycles. We think we have volition – the freedom of choice – and we do, but we’re also affected by the circumstances around us whether or not we’re aware of it.

How do you typically adapt to the early darkness and short days of winter?

According to science, here are just some of the ways that shorter days may affect your brain:

  • Changes in metabolism – your brain sends the message to your body to conserve energy.
  • Changes in mood – darkness decreases your levels of serotonin and dopamine, which can lead to emotional shifts and even depression.
  • Shorter attention span – limiting light exposure can impact your hypothalamus, the part of your brain responsible for sleep and circadian rhythms.
  • Fatigue – the hormone melatonin helps to regulate circadian rhythms, and is overproduced during darker days, which has people feel more lethargic.

What does this mean? More darkness can feel like there is less time in your day to get things done, exercise, and be out and about. It becomes easy to skip something you usually do in your routine, or to feel like you’re “running out of time” (when you’re actually “running out of light”).

Regardless of where in the world you live, a change in the amount of light and darkness that you are accustomed to can have an effect on your sleep, mood, and appetite. For some people, too much darkness and not enough light can result in depression, known as Seasonal Affect Disorder, which can be aided with light therapy.

And let’s look at one part of the world, Norway, where during “Polar Night” the sun doesn’t rise at all, then the days get progressively longer until the Midnight Sun period from May to July, when the sun never sets!

How do they do it?

Kari Leibowitz, reporting for the Atlantic, set out to research why rates of seasonal depression are remarkably low in Norway when they have such short days for a long period of time.

She found the bottom line to be this: Mindset. If a person (like Kari, who’s from New Jersey) is used to the perspective of dreading winter, that’s likely how they are going to approach it, and how the body/brain will respond.

To me, this means that our thoughts – habits, attitudes, beliefs, and perspectives – have a huge influence over how we experience the changes in the seasons. And that same collection of thoughts can affect the way the brain reacts, such as how much it decreases or increases our levels of serotonin, dopamine, and melatonin.

So, you, like the Norwegians, have a certain amount of control over how you are going to respond to the seasons, such as shorter days and longer nights in winter. They have a mindset that generally looks forward to these cycles, and allows them to adapt accordingly.

When the season changes where you live, tune in to your body and notice any changes in how you feel. Has your sleep, mood, or appetite changed?

The more aware you are of your responses, the more able you will be to identify what adjustments you may need to make to feel better.

Adjusting to more darkness could mean going to bed earlier, rearranging your routines, or slowing down and doing less. It might mean rescheduling the important things in your schedule, so you don’t “run out of time” during the day. Maybe the darkness is a signal to be more like bears and to hibernate – that your body needs to have quiet evenings, get more sleep, and rest in order to rejuvenate for the longer days to come in spring.

Being aware of these responses and habits allows you to make choices in your perspective,  outlook, and rate of happiness. The cycles of seasons and weather (and many things in our lives) are out of our control, but you CAN control how you feel about them, how you want to adapt, and ways that you can look forward to whatever comes your way, light or dark.