Fall means cozy sweaters, gorgeous foliage, and a crisp breeze in the air. Yet, in addition to these lovable features, the new season brings shorter, darker days. Unfortunately, this decrease in light can leave you feeling moody, tired, and unfocused. In this post, we cover the science behind these changes and what you can do to maintain your mental wellness throughout the year.
How shorter days affect your mental wellbeing
Research shows that light levels can affect your brain chemistry, particularly as it relates to mood and sleep patterns. Exposure to sunlight during the day boosts levels of serotonin, a neurochemical that supports emotional stability.1 And the absence of light at night prompts the release of melatonin, a hormone that signals to your brain that bedtime may be near.2
Come autumn, we’re hit with a twofold assault on our precious sunlight. First, due to the relative position of the earth and sun, the northern hemisphere is simply in the dark for more of the day. Second, the shift from daylight savings time to standard time means that sunset arrives yet earlier.
While some people may not be particularly affected by shorter days, for others fall brings notable changes in mental wellness. Those earlier sunsets might mean that you get sleepy long before you intend to go to bed; and drops in serotonin may affect your mood and ability to concentrate.
When a shortage of serotonin becomes severe, it can lead to seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, a type of depression that tends to start in the fall and continue until spring. The American Psychiatric Association describes:
SAD has been linked to a biochemical imbalance in the brain prompted by shorter daylight hours and less sunlight in winter. As seasons change, people experience a shift in their biological internal clock or circadian rhythm that can cause them to be out of step with their daily schedule.3
People with SAD experience the same symptoms as those with nonseasonal depression, including loss of energy and focus, feelings of sadness, and changes in sleep or appetite.
SAD is thought to affect around 5% of American adults and should be treated by a medical professional. Yet, even those of us who are spared the worst seasonal changes may experience fall and winter blues. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to keep your mood in check.
Fall tips for sleeping well and feeling great
As your circadian rhythms adjust to the new season, consider these tips for better sleep and less stress:
- Work on your sleep routine
A regular sleep schedule is critical to emotional stability. Try to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, and aim to get 7-9 hours nightly. Though a cozy nap may be tempting during darker, cooler seasons, be aware that naps can make it difficult to stick to your nighttime routine.
- Prepare to “fall back”
The abrupt switch from daylight savings time to standard time can mess with your sleep schedule. To ease into this shift, try gradually adjusting your bedtime in the weeks leading up to the time change.
- Take a sunlight break
During the fall and winter, it’s easy to miss out on daylight because you’re in the office or otherwise occupied. Try to schedule outdoor breaks during the day, so you can soak up a bit of sun.
- Restore emotional balance with Cove
Cove’s patented vibrations activate a brain pathway critical to healthy sleep, stress management, and general wellbeing. By strengthening this pathway, Cove helps users sleep better and stress less. In trials, daily users experienced 50% better sleep and 41% less stress.
 “Serotonin: What you need to know.” Healthline. Available at: https://www.healthline.com/health/mental-health/serotonin.
 “Melatonin.” Mayo Clinic. Available at: https://www.mayoclinic.org/drugs-supplements-melatonin/art-20363071.
 “Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).” American Psychiatric Association. Available at: https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/depression/seasonal-affective-disorder.