As winter approaches, some people are affected by daylight getting shorter. For some, it’s a minor change in mood and others experience a deep depression called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

What causes this? The reduced level of sunlight can disrupt the body’s internal clock and cause a drop in serotonin, a brain chemical (neurotransmitter) that affects mood. Less exposure to sunlight can also disrupt the balance of the body’s level of melatonin, the hormone that affects sleep patterns and mood.

What can you do to help you feel better when there is less daylight?

  1. Get outside during the day to get as much sunlight as possible. This can be tough when you get to and from work in the dark. So remember to invest in warm clothes so you can be comfortable outside even if it is cold. Make an extra effort to get outside on the weekend.
  1. If it’s cold or snowy try to get outside to workout. If it’s completely impossible, see if you can find a gym where you can exercise near a window.
  1. When indoors, keep your window coverings open to let in as much daylight as you can.
  1. Take vitamin D with added vitamin K2 (which boosts the effectiveness). This combination is available online. Vitamin D is the vitamin our skin receives from sunshine so taking vitamin D can help compensate for reduced sunshine. Look for the USP seal on supplements.
  1. If you can’t get outside, you can get a light therapy box which provides light that is much brighter than that of regular light bulbs and in different wavelengths. Sitting in front of that light for 30 minutes in the morning stimulates the brain in a way similar to sunshine.
  1. Get an alarm clock that awakens you with gradually increasing light, rather than just sound.
  1. Throughout the ages, people have taken the winter season with its shorter day light hours to be a time to reduce life’s craziness and have more time with aspects of life that are quieter, less busy and slower.
  1. Make your bedroom cozier for winter nights. Invest in a new comforter, new sheets or pillows if you can afford it. Make your bed a place that embraces you with comfort.
  1. Maintain a regular bedtime, which can help improve your sleep, and help you feel better during the day.
  1. Get Social Support. Make a mental or written list of people you could call if you’re feeling down. A phone call, email exchange, or getting together in person could help lift you up.

Try even a few of these steps and you can reduce the impact of Seasonal Affective Disorder and feel more in charge of your life this winter.

– Richard Shane, PhD

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