Sleep is a human necessity; something we all need a certain amount of every day in order to properly function.
But it's also very fragile and can be easily affected by many outside factors; from the things we eat, to the mattress we lie on, one slight misstep or change in our routine can throw off our entire sleep cycle.
Did you know that one of these factors includes the seasons as they can have an impact on the quality and quantity of sleep a person gets, including children?
Technically, it's known as Seasonal Affective Disorder and it could be the reason behind your child's change in sleep habits.
What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?
Seasonal Affective Disorder, also known as SAD, is a type of depression that's linked to the change in seasons. It has been scientifically proven that seasonal changes can cause spikes in depression, particularly during the winter period, for a couple of reasons.
One is that from late October when the clocks go back, until late March, when spring officially begins and the clocks go back forward, the days get shorter which means we experience less daylight. Coupled with the fact that the change in weather and increased cloud cover mean that we are exposed to less sunlight during the day too, and sunlight is key when it comes to getting enough Vitamin D.
Vitamin D is essential in providing us with strong and healthy bone growth, and a deficiency of it has been linked to various cancers, heart disease and weight gain. There have also been studies into the link between Vitamin D deficiency and depression, and it shows that there could be a connection between the Vitamin D receptors in the brain and the area of the brain associated with depression.
Therefore, during the Autumn/Winter period when we are getting less sunlight and, hence, less Vitamin D, it's understandable that this could trigger depression.
Another reason is that the longer nights and shorter days disrupts your internal clock, so the sleep-wake cycle that your body has become accustomed to is broken. Your body's internal clock responds to changes between light and dark to regulate your sleep, so the changes over winter can leave you feeling groggy and tired.
There are also external factors that can make people more susceptible to depression during this time of year. The cold weather and increase in rainfall mean that we spend more time indoors which generally means we get less fresh air and spend less time socialising or exercising.
Seasonal occasions, such as Christmas, mean that we are spending a lot more money than usual which can cause financial stress; not to mention the added stress of travelling to spend time with family and keeping on top of work before Christmas break.
All this only makes the season more challenging than the rest of the year.
How can Seasonal Affective Disorder affect your child?
Much like adults, SAD can affect children although it is more common in teens and young adults. Even though kids don't have the additional seasonal worries of financial pressures brought on by Christmas, or weight gain thanks to the festive celebrations, they are still at risk of SAD due to Vitamin D deficiency.
As SAD is a type of depression, it has many of the same signs and symptoms as other depressive disorders including changes in mood, low energy, difficulty concentrating and tendencies to overeat.
This can then bleed into other areas of their life and affect things like friendships, school work and hobbies.
Another area of life that can be particularly affected by SAD is sleep. Sleeping for longer than normal or struggling to get out of bed in the morning is a common side effect of SAD thanks to the disruption of your body's internal clock.
If you have noticed that your child is sleeping more, or not waking up in the morning, and this change has occurred in correlation to the shift from Summer into Autumn and Winter, then they could be dealing with Seasonal Affective Disorder.
What can you do to minimise the effects of Seasonal Affective Disorder?
As we can see, the biggest cause of SAD is a lack of Vitamin D, so finding alternative methods of increasing your child's Vitamin D intake can be helpful.
Although sunlight is the best and easiest way to get Vitamin D, it can also be found naturally in some foods, such as fatty fish, soy milk and egg yolks, or be obtained through tablets and supplements.
Alternatively, you can try to make sure that your child still gets as much exposure to sunlight as possible by taking them outside during daylight hours or fitting full-spectrum light bulbs in their room.
SAD can also be managed like many other types of depression; talk to your child about it so they understand why they feel the way they do, make sure they are getting fresh air and exercise, ensure that they are eating the right things and spend some quality time with them so they know that you are there for support.
Not only will they be struggling with their sleep, but they are likely to feel down and more sensitive than usual so it's important to find ways to lift their spirits.
If you suspect that your child has SAD, your first course of action should always be to seek the advice of a medical professional. Take them to their doctor who can conduct a careful evaluation and provide comprehensive advice and support.