Sleeping In Seattle: The Consequences Of SAD

I recently mentioned my somewhat reluctant decision to relocate from Seattle when the right opportunity presents itself (A job and nice one bedroom in Berkeley, North Oakland or Boulder anyone? Anyone?).

While my move was precipitated by a layoff in February, I’ve known for a year that a relocation was necessary, regardless of my affection for my adopted city – despite my beautiful, relatively affordable apartment just two blocks from Lake Union and my peaceful, tree-lined neighborhood full of pretty houses brimming with gardens and backyard chickens. Even though I can walk everywhere, crime is virtually nonexistent and my landlord rocks.

The real reason I’m leaving Seattle is because I suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and arthritis (due to a bizarre infectious disease acquired in Ecuador three years ago). SAD is thought to result from a shift in the body’s circadian rhythms, due to changes in sunlight patterns (think of how certain mammals hibernate in winter). Shorter, darker days also increase the amount of melatonin, a hormone linked to the regulation of sleep and waking, released by the pineal gland. Perhaps my being a Southern California native is to blame (although I’m officially a resident of Colorado…it’s complicated, I know).
It took me a long time to commit to a move to the Pacific Northwest, despite my love of the region, because I was concerned about the climate. But, like many before me, I was seduced by a record-breaking Seattle summer three years ago when the temperature soared into the upper 80s and the sky remained a clear, vivid blue. The job prospects appeared promising and an incredible sublet fell into my lap. I was in Seattle for the weekend for work and a month later, I was living there. It was like I’d hijacked myself.

My friend Chris has lived in Seattle since 1994. We were hanging out during my visit when I announced I was going to move. “It’s not usually like this,” he cautioned. I was busy gaping at Mt. Rainier in the distance.

He didn’t lie. I’ve been waiting for the weather to be like that ever since. I was filled with anticipatory dread before my first winter, which is why I’d initially only committed to a sublet. It turned out to be the mildest winter Seattle had seen in years, causing me to mock the locals I’d met. “Just wait,” they told me ominously (for a different viewpoint, check out my Gadling colleague Pam Mandel’s ode to Seattle winters, here).

The last two winters – which have been harsh, even by Seattle standards – have kicked my ass. It’s not the “snow” we’ve gotten; I love snow. But Colorado averages 300 days of sunshine a year, and it has a tolerable, dry cold. Seattle cold seeps into the bones, and summer is a negligible term for most of that season. I actually didn’t realize I had post-infectious arthritis until two years ago, when the Fourth of July dawned wet and dismal, and my joints felt like they’d entered their golden years overnight.

Since then, I’ve experienced varying intensities of arthralgia in my hands and knees as well as low-level to serious fatigue. As a runner, this was problematic and my depression increased because I had turned from physically active, adventurous outdoor fanatic to couch potato. I often required daily naps, which wracked me with guilt.

Not until last summer, while visiting my former home of Boulder, Colorado, did I fully realize the impact Seattle was having on my physical and mental health. On my first morning, to quote a SAD-suffering friend, I felt like “someone had turned the world’s lights back on.” I marveled at the sunshine and warm air. I shocked myself by effortlessly doing a three-mile run – the first half uphill. Every day, I stayed outside until sunset. My arthritis had vanished. I felt like me, again: the spaz who can’t stand to be indoors when the sun is shining. I was productive and active and a much, much happier person. I had the same experience while in northern Chile in August.

I returned to Seattle and wham! I morphed into the worst of the seven dwarfs again: sleepy, grumpy and lazy. Work circumstances forced me to postpone a move, and it seemed like every day it was either pissing rain or the sky was low and leaden. I had difficulty concentrating on work, and was irritable and overemotional. Desperate, I sought the care of an excellent psychiatrist, who combined talk therapy with antidepressants.

While getting laid off sucked, it was also a strange relief. The one thing tying me to Seattle was gone. The thought of leaving is disappointing, but life is too short to live embedded in the couch. The economy is picking up in the Bay Area and I’ve had some very promising job leads.

It’s hard to admit that the color of the sky exerts such influence over your mood. However, I’m not alone; according to Mental Health America, three out of four SAD sufferers are women.

My advice: the sooner you admit it, the sooner you can get on with living. Whether you require phototherapy, antidepressants, extra Vitamin D, counseling, acupuncture, warm-weather vacations, or relocation, the bottom line is that SAD is very real and can have a devastating impact upon your quality of life as well as your personal and professional relationships and career. And, like a romance that’s not quite right, it’s not worth sticking it out. Me? I’ve decided that Seattle is ideal for the occasional weekend fling.

Signs you may be suffering from SAD (these symptoms are most likely to occur in winter, but some forms of SAD do occur during the summer)

  • Inability to concentrate or increase in irritability
  • Feelings of sadness, unhappiness, or restlessness
  • Fatigue and/or lethargy
  • Anxiety
  • Increase in appetite/weight gain
  • Social withdrawal
  • Increase in sleep and daytime sleepiness
  • Loss of interest in work and activities you once enjoyed

Where to get help:

Talk to your health care provider, who can refer you to a specialist. For additional information and support, check out the Seasonal Affective Disorder Association (SADA) website.

[Photo credits:girl, Flickr user Meredith_Farmer; clouds, Flickr user CoreBurn;sun, Flickr user Warm ‘n Fuzzy]

SkyMall Monday: Temperature Regulating Sheets

For many people, it can be difficult to sleep comfortably. Whether it’s because of stress, noise or horrific night terrors, sleep does not come easily to everyone. One of the biggest challenges to sleeping well is simply getting comfortable. Sleeping in a cold room will cause you to shivver. Sleeping in a hot room will make you sweat. It can be a constant struggle. Here at SkyMall Monday headquarters, we struggle with the oppressive heat that our building pumps into the space during the winter. It can make sleeping terribly difficult (and sweaty). How can we combat this climate controlling scurge that makes rest allusive and sleep a pipedream? The same way we address all of life’s problems: with the SkyMall catalog. Finally, we have a solution to all of this sleep deprevation. Feast your eyes on these glorious Temperature Regulating Sheets.Opening and closing windows are tedious tasks that can lead to back and shoulder injuries. Adjusting your thermostat will result in higher gas and electric bills. Kicking off the sheets or adding a blanket just seems exhausting. Why not just relax and let the sheets do the climate controlling for you? Being in bed should be restful, after all.

Think that sheets should be simple and just lay there? Believe that if you’re cold you should just put on a sweatshirt? Well, while you layer up, the rest of us are going to read the product description:

Using a fabric developed for NASA to help astronauts adapt to extreme temperature fluctuations, these sheets prevent overheating and eliminate chills to create an optimal sleeping climate. Imbedded in the sheets are millions of invisible microcapsules that absorb excess heat when you are hot and release the stored heat when you are cold, ensuring a comfortable bed temperature and humidity. Unlike an electric blanket, the microcapsules adjust independently to an individual’s climate, allowing two sleepers with different temperature preferences to remain comfortable throughout the night.

I have no idea what any of that means, but NASA sends people to space and that’s awesome. If these sheets can get me to space, then count me in.

Sleep is essential to staying healthy. Rather than struggling with drafty windows and expensive air conditioning, pick up some space-aged sheets to keep you comfortable. It sure beats buying new pajamas or gimmicky pillows. Get them for all of your bunk beds today!

Check out all of the previous SkyMall Monday posts HERE.

Dry and uncomfortable in your hotel room? Bring a humidfier!

While strolling through the aisles of the local Bed Bath and Beyond yesterday (which is a bad idea this time of year), I came across this fantastic little ultrasonic humidifier.

The Air-O-Swiss “AOS 7146 TRAVEL” is a tiny box, with a water bottle screw thread on top. Instead of relying on a gallon sized water container, you simply attach a regular water bottle to the top of the unit, plug in the power adapter, and it instantly starts blowing out nice humid mist.

The humidity (or lack of) in most hotel rooms has always bothered me, and I’d often wake up in the middle of the night with a dry throat, so this device just went on my Christmas list.

The AOS 7146 costs $59.99, but most people will probably have a large stack of 20% off coupons for Bed Bath and Beyond lying around, bringing the price down to a very reasonable level.

The unit comes complete with an international power adapter with foreign plugs as well as a travel bag. At just 0.7lbs, it is small and light enough to accompany you on your next trip, and hopefully make things a little more comfortable. If you don’t have a store in your area, you can order it on the Bed Bath and Beyond web site,

Perfect timing

I’m playing around the with idea of a trip. Oh, who am I kidding — I’m always playing around with the idea of a trip, even if it’s just a weekend getaway. But I’ve been thinking seriously about heading to India this year. I’m thinking I’ll have to wait until October though — Summer is Monsoon season and right now it’s super-hot season.

The point I’m getting at here is how to figure out the timing of your vacation. Being from Canada, a place where there’s a very small window of tolerable weather, I’m usually quite careful about making sure that when I take a big trip, I make sure to visit that country during it’s nicest season. But I think we Canadians sometimes assume that if a country doesn’t have snow, it’s nice to visit any time of year–an assumption that lead me to Thailand during monsoon season (good thing I like dancing the rain) and to Greece with nary a sweater in spring (nights can get damn cold there!)

MSNBC recently did an article on timing your vacation well. Their tips?

  • Don’t go when the locals are heading out. Because there’s a reason they’re leaving.
  • If you’re trying to save money, don’t go during low season — opt for shoulder season instead. It’s worth it.
  • Seasons can change between ZIP codes, so do your research on that exact spot.

Want to know more? Click here.

Let There Be Darkness

This evening between 7:55-8pm CET in Europe, some European cities–Paris and Athens among them–went dark for five minutes. Not by accident, either.

Tomorrow, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change will unveil a long-awaited report on global warming. And, apparently, nobody (aside from global warming deniers and skeptical environmentalists) expects it to be pretty.

Pressure is building on U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to call an emergency summit of world leaders to break the deadlock over cutting greenhouse gases.

I wonder how much money would be saved by keeping the Eiffel Tower dark indefinitely. The 20,000 flashing lights sure make it look more visible to air traffic though. Oh, but wait, air travel is bad for the environment, too. This is where I might stop being an environmentalist. I guess you have to pick your battles.