Vitamin D: Winter Update

As we are now squarely in the winter season; the daylight hours are shorter; the weather is colder; and the end of the quarter – accompanied by all of its stress – is here. Seattle has one of the lowest rates of clear skies in the country, with clear skies occurring only about 28% of the time during the winter months. Furthermore, many people in the Pacific Northwest experience Seasonal Affective Disorder, which has symptoms similar to depression. Signs and symptoms include: fatigue, low energy, increased appetite, and feeling sad or down.


One common explanation for changes in mood during the winter is reduced direct sunlight. It can be hard to find time to get outdoors in the winter, which in turn can impact the amount of Vitamin D we get from sunlight. Although the link between Vitamin D and problems with mood is not fully understood, there does seem to be evidence that Vitamin D is related to levels of serotonin in the brain. When we get less exposure to sunlight, thus getting less Vitamin D, our serotonin levels also go down. Lower serotonin is generally related to increases in depression. In fact, many medications that are used to treat depression target serotonin levels.

While increasing Vitamin D levels doesn’t help everyone improve their mood, many people do report benefits. There are several ways to make sure we get adequate Vitamin D when our access to sunlight is limited:

  • Try getting small amounts of sunlight throughout your day. When it’s not raining, consider going for a short walk during lunch or between meetings and classes. All of the smaller amounts can add up to help you get enough exposure to the UVB rays.
  • Eat foods that are high in Vitamin D. Fatty fish, like salmon, eggs, fortified milk, orange juice, cheese, and mushrooms all contain large amounts of Vitamin D.
  • Some experts recommend using sun lamps or light boxes that produce a full-spectrum bright light to increase Vitamin D. These lights that are made for light therapy don’t increase risk for skin cancer, unlike tanning beds.
  • Vitamin D supplements have mixed evidence in terms of improving mood. At this point, research does not clearly indicate that taking Vitamin D supplements improves mood.

If you are someone who typically starts feeling down during the winter, it may help to start adding some of the tips above into your day. Exercise, whether indoors or outside, also has been consistently shown to improve mood. If none of these tips work for you, consider reaching out for help from friends or family, your church community, or a mental health therapist.

Update (4/2018): Check out this comprehensive and useful guide for how to get a good night's sleep!

Screen Time Before Bed


Many of us use our smartphones, laptops, or other electronic devices all day long. Technology can help us get our homework done, connect with friends, or entertain ourselves. This can result in spending a great deal of time using screens all the way up until bedtime. In fact, the National Sleep Foundation conducted a poll that showed that 95% of American’s use a device within an hour of going to sleep.

Most of us have heard that screen time, or anything you do on your phone, computer, eReader, or other electronic device, may impact our sleep. Recent research has confirmed that screen time before bed does impact your sleep quality and ability to fall asleep in two ways:

  1. Screens emit blue light, which is in the same frequency band that is present during the day-time hours. This means your body may perceive the blue light from your screen as daylight, which suppresses the production of certain hormones, like melatonin, that help you feel sleepy.
  2. The light from your screen may also impact your circadian rhythm. Looking at your screen before bed can have an activating effect, making your body feel tense, increase your body’s production of cortisol (a stress hormone), and make you feel alert and awake. This is the exact opposite of what you want your body to do before bedtime because it can make it difficult for your body to relax in order to fall asleep.

Luckily, the simplest way that we can counteract the effect of screens before bed is to stop using screens and other technology 15-30 minutes before bedtime. This will give you a chance to unwind and relax, and will help your body transition to sleep mode. You may even consider establishing a bedtime routine, which can include things like reading a book, taking a bath, or practicing relaxation, like meditation or mindfulness.

A Mindful Thanksgiving


Thanksgiving is a time when we spend time with family and friends and can give thanks for everything we are grateful for. For some of us, spending time with family on Thanksgiving can mean navigating complicated family tensions or differing political opinions. Thanksgiving also comes at a time that is close to the end of the quarter, leaving many of us feeling stressed about end of quarter deadlines, preparing to head home for winter break, or financial stress as we enter the holiday season.

It can be easy for us to get swept up in the excitement and not truly appreciate the day or feel overwhelmed by all of the stress that accompanies Thanksgiving. Mindfulness can help us get the most out of our Thanksgiving and stay present in the moment. Research also shows that mindfulness can help us slow down and reduce stress. Here are some easy things we can do to stay mindful this Thanksgiving:

  • Express gratitude – take a moment to reflect on what you’re grateful for, consider writing down a few things that have been particularly meaningful to you. This can help you focus on the positive aspects of your life, family, or situation.
  • Send kind thoughts or prayers to others – practice opening your heart by including kind thoughts and prayers for others near and far into your day, even to those who may be causing you stress.
  • Eat mindfully
  • Give back to the community – consider donating extra food or volunteering at a soup kitchen.
  • Take quiet time for yourself – take a break from the festivities to check in with yourself to foster awareness of your experience. This can also help us notice when we are starting to get overwhelmed by stress or family tension.
  • Listen to others mindfully – truly hear what others are saying to learn something new from a story you’ve heard hundreds of times or are hearing for the very first time. Let go of judgments of what others are saying or assumumptions about others intentions.
  • Use all of your senses to experience the day – enhance your awareness by noticing what you are seeing, smelling, tasting, hearing, and feeling

Try out one or two of these tips on your Thanksgiving. Whether you are someone who gets caught up in the celebration or overwhelmed by the stress of the day, these tips can help you stay centered. The Wellness Initiative wishes you a mindful Thanksgiving!

Be Well: Mindful Thanksgiving Yoga

Be Well: Mindful Yoga will be holding a bonus session of mindfulness and yoga from 6:30am-7:30am on Wednesday, November 23rd in the Hill Hall lounge. This will include 40 minutes of yoga led by a certified instructor, followed by a relaxing time of mindful coloring (supplies provided). Please be sure to bring a yoga mat if you have one, and invite your friends to this free event! We hope to see you there.


Fact or Myth: Is Exercise Before Bedtime Bad for You?


Sleep researchers agree that exercise helps you sleep. However, popular knowledge has suggested that exercising too close to bedtime is bad for sleep, keeping you awake longer. Here’s the argument for why exercising too close to bedtime can disturb your sleep:

  • At night, your body temperature lowers slightly signaling to your body that it is time for sleep.
  • Exercise, especially vigorous exercise, raises your body’s temperature by a couple degrees and it stays elevated for up to 5 hours after you exercise. This may interrupt the natural signal of your body lowering its temperature before bed.
  • Exercise also promotes the release of adrenaline in your brain, keeping your mind and body activated, and making it harder to sleep.
  • Vigorous exercise can make it difficult to relax and wind-down before bed.

Does the science support this argument? Unfortunately, the evidence is not clear. One 2011 study suggested that vigorous exercise before bed had no impact on sleep. Additionally, in a large national poll conducted by the National Sleep Foundation, moderate to vigorous exercisers reported no difference in sleep even when they exercised close to bedtime. On the other hand, a 2013 study found that exercise before bed disrupted the onset of sleep.

While the evidence is mixed on whether exercise before bedtime is bad for you, it is very clear that exercise at any time of the day will help you sleep. Many sleep experts still recommend that you try not to exercise too close to bedtime, but you know your body best. If you know that exercising before bed doesn’t affect your sleep – keep doing that. However, if you are having trouble sleeping and you exercise within a couple hours of bedtime, experiment with exercising earlier in your day!


Sleep Debt - How to Repay It

We know that most adults need 7-9 hours of sleep per night.  As students, many of us have difficulty getting that much sleep during the week, and may be getting only 5-6 hours.  Consistently getting 6 hours of sleep or less during the week can put us in a state of sleep debt.  How do we repay this debt?  Many of us “repay” this debt is by sleeping in on the weekends.

Science suggests that sleeping in on weekends in order to catch-up on the sleep you missed during the week can actually throw off you schedule even more.

According to researchers at Harvard Medical School, there are two main mechanisms that regulate your sleep patterns:

  1. Homeostcircadian-rhythmsatic Sleep Drive: your body builds up adenosine (a molecule in your body created by energy consumption) throughout the day.  At night, your levels of adenosine are highest, causing you to feel sleepy.
  2. Circadian Rhythms: your body has a circadian alerting system that keeps us alert and awake during the day.  Our circadian “clock” is thought to run on a 24-hour cycle that generally keeps us awake for about 16 hours.

The balance and interplay between these two mechanisms regulate our sleep pattern.  Sleeping in on weekends means that your body will need to readjust come Monday morning to your regular weekday schedule.  Small changes to your sleep schedule – changes of less than 1 hour – aren’t likely to affect your sleep pattern during the week.  However, large variations in your sleep schedule between weekdays and the weekend sends mixed messages to your body.

Most sleep research suggests that coming up with a regular sleep schedule AND sticking to it even on the weekends is the best option to avoid acquiring a sleep debt.  Tips for establishing a regular sleep schedule can be found here.  Alternatively, we can repay our sleep debt by adding an hour of sleep to our schedule on weekend nights or during the week.  Going to bed even 30 minutes earlier can help us start to catch up.


The Importance of Sleep

Sleep is an essential part of life. As humans, we typically spend up to one-third of our lives asleep. On average, the National Sleep Foundation recommends 7-9 hours per night for adults.   Although researchers are still learning about why we need sleep, we already know a lot about how and why we sleep. Watch the video below to learn more:


College students are one of the most sleep-deprived populations. Its hard to juggle all of the responsibilities of being a student and get enough sleep! Sleep is strongly linked to overall wellness, and there are many benefits to getting enough sleep:

  • Brain health
  • Improves learning
  • Improves ability to pay attention in class
  • Maintaining physical health and immune system functioning
  • Improves mood
  • Reduces stress

This month the Wellness Blog will be focusing on sleep, so stay tuned for tips and information about sleep!


Faculty Spotlight: Impact of Sleep on Wellness

Sleep is important for faculty, staff, and students. Getting an adequate amount of sleep helps faculty and staff perform their job duties to the best of their abilities and helps students participate fully in their education. According to research conducted by the National Sleep Foundation, the following amounts of sleep are recommended for each age group:

  • 18-25 years old: 7-9 hours
  • 25-64 years old: 7-9 hours
  • 65+ years old: 7-8 hours

One recent national study used activity trackers to monitor how much college students sleep – they found that 46.2% of students are not getting enough sleep. Sleep deficiency is a big problem for both students and faculty and staff. It has also been linked to many negative effects on wellness:

  • Increased chance of illness, including colds, the flu, and high blood pressure
  • Feeling stressed and difficulty coping with stress
  • Decreased academic performance
  • Mental health problems, including depression and anxiety
  • Difficulty making decisions, concentrating, and problem solving
  • Impaired general functioning



As faculty and staff you may see students that are experiencing sleep deficiency. Some common signs include: falling asleep in class, inability to focus, irritability, and slower reaction time. If you notice a student that may be having difficulty getting enough sleep, consider talking with them and offering support. More information about how to develop a plan help you sleep well can be found here.

Update (4/2018): Check out this comprehensive and useful guide for how to get a good night's sleep!