Winter is a toughy. The time change interrupts sleep cycles, its cold and flu season, and millions of people deal with seasonal affective disorder. It’s a yearly pattern that is easy to helplessly fall into as we drink our bone broth from our sickbeds, waiting for the warmer, longer days to return.
Taking care of yourself, mentally and physically is extra important right now. Sure, you should wash your hands more often, eat a varied diet, get plenty of rest, and stay hydrated, but that’s not always enough to tackle it all. Sauna and cold plunge can be an effective practice to stay afloat throughout these colder months, promoting health and happiness year round.
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is depression the is brought about by the cooler winter months. The exact cause of it is unclear, but it’s thought to be related to limited sunlight. Sunlight plays a major role in regulating your circadian rhythm, so the shift in exposure time could easily impact your mood, hormone levels, and sleep patterns, throwing your brain and body for a loop (1). We’d suggest supplementing with fish oil + vitamin d from nordic naturals.
Our infrared sauna is equipped with LED lights that can be used for chromotherapy, which is becoming an increasingly popular treatment for SAD. Different color lights can cause specific changes in the mind and body. For example, red is known to boost energy while blue is shown to reduce anxiety and quiet the mind (2). Follow your sauna with a cold plunge. Cold water balances serotonin levels and increases concentrations of dopamine, which regulate mood and help you feel happy and alert.
Winter creates a perfect storm of conditions that make people get sick. The weather encourages people want to stay indoors sharing germs in confined spaces, the cold, dry air compromises your immune system and the shorter days reduce your vitamin D levels.
The lymphatic system is kind of like your body’s waste water treatment center, and maintaining this system will help you fight off the germs and viruses that are likely to come your way this season. This system filters out waste products and dangerous foreign bodies (3). In the sauna, heat makes lymph fluid move and expand, excreting toxins through sweat. In the cold plunge, lymph vessels contract and force lymph fluid through lymphatic vessels. This triggers white blood cells and macrophages to find and destroy any foreign matter that shouldn’t be in your system, kicking colds to the curb!
Everyone’s sleep patterns are different, and most of us know what time of day to cut out the caffeine and when to turn off our screens so that our bodies and minds can wind down. Sometimes, during this time of year, our cycles still become disrupted despite our best efforts, leaving us sluggish and tired. There are several factors that could contribute to this, changes in diet during the holidays, less daylight, even the dry air from our heaters could be making an impact. One thing is for sure, your body creates more melatonin in the winter, and melatonin’s main job is to lull you to sleep.
Melatonin and cortisol work together as a team to control your sleep wake cycle (4). Melatonin on the sleepy end and cortisol on the other. You can use sauna and cold plunge to meddle in this relationship and influence this delicate balance. Sauna use before bed releases muscle tension, forcing your body to relax, eases anxiety, and helps your body to transition into a restful state. Cold stimulus charges your body’s nervous system, releasing adrenaline and cortisol, and stimulating your metabolism. A cold plunge in the morning will jump start to the day, shutting off melatonin production so you feel more alert.
If you struggle through this time of year, give some of these tips a try. They really could make a big difference in quality of life!
Seasonal Depression. Cleveland Clinic. 2016 Dec 12. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/9293-seasonal-depression.
Meesters Y, Gordijn M. Seasonal affective disorder, winter type: current insights and treatment options. NCBI. Dove Press. 2016 Nov 30. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5138072/.
Nelson RJ, Demas GE. Seasonal changes in immune function. NCBI. Pub Med. 1996 Dec 7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8987173.
Monteleone P. Temporal relationship between melatonin and cortisol responses to nighttime physical stress in humans. NCBI. Pub Med. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/m/pubmed/1609019/.