SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska


For some, a tough transition to fall's early darkness
Anchorage Daily News


October 07, 2006

Check all that are true:

[] On colder, darker mornings, escaping prison seems easier than getting out of bed.

[] You used to start snoring during Letterman. Now your jammies are on before the 6 o'clock news.




[] During the workday, you feel sluggish and sense that you're supposed to be somewhere else: namely, between your headboard and your footboard.

"You're not imagining it," said Jerry Trodden, clinical manager of Providence's Sleep Disorders Center in Anchorage, Alaska. "This is the time of year when people start to notice the darkness crowd down, and because it has been so cloudy out, we're especially keen to it."

For the majority of the population, more muddled fall mornings aren't an indication of a sleep disorder. The drowsy mornings are merely the result of an unnamed chemical reaction as the body clock resets itself.

Blame the same adaptive process that brought you opposable thumbs: evolution.

"Humans evolved to wake up when there was light," said Dr. Anne Morris, a sleep specialist at Providence. "That's basically what triggers our brains to suppress our melatonin (sleep hormone) and wake up. As our nights get longer, we've lost that morning cue."

Lack of light doesn't just affect bedtime. A study published in the August issue of the journal Current Biology found that exposure to light enhances alertness and boosts performance in humans.

The transition to fall is tough enough for timecard punchers. For those without a watch-tapping boss to fear - the self-employed and those who work from home - it's especially tempting to stay in bed.

Donna Mihm, owner of Donna's Bed and Breakfast in Anchorage, said that as the days get darker, it's harder for her and her guests to rise and shine.

"I just had guests from Valdez who had an appointment to take their dog in to the vet, but they overslept and missed it," she said. "They didn't get up until 10 a.m."

Mihm has lived in Alaska for 20 years.

"Each fall I find myself sleeping later and wanting to go to bed earlier, too," she said. "I get tired fast at night in the early darkness."

For people like Mihm, this is just an adjustment period. But for some people, changes in sleep cycles and increased lethargy can be an early warning sign of seasonal affective disorder, or SAD. Morris said many patients with SAD start experiencing depression as soon as they see leaves fall.

"Dark coming does affect everybody temporarily, and then we get back into the groove and it's fine. But people with true pathology continue to struggle," said Shelli Cutting, director of Alaska Regional Hospital's Sleep Laboratory.

Sleep specialists said people feeling progressively depressed and sluggish should call a medical professional, especially if they have a history of SAD-related symptoms.

"Don't wait until November," Morris said. "A lot of people drag and suffer through a big part of the winter, when they might have had a much more enjoyable winter if they had seen someone about it."


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Ketchikan, Alaska