This weekend comes the end of daylight savings time which means we turn the clocks back 1 hour. Yes, that means we will have an even earlier sunset than we have already been having the past few weeks. Have you already noticed feeling more tired and wanting to go to bed even earlier at night? Losing an hour of sunlight each afternoon can really affect our energy levels and moods. Winter blues, also known as seasonal depression is very common, especially in the Northern US. An even more clinical form of this depression exists and is called Seasonal Affective Disorder. The symptoms of seasonal depression include fatigue, withdrawal from activities, irritability, hopelessness, and depression. The shorter days (and less exposure to sunlight) that occur in the fall and winter are the main culprit. Reduced exposure to sunlight can disrupt our bodies’ circadian rhythms, or internal clocks, and our natural levels to be off. During the day our brains send signals to our bodies to stay alert and ready for action. With less sunlight exposure comes a significant dip in serotonin, the neurotransmitter responsible for mood, appetite, sleep, and memory. Then when the sun starts to set each night, our pituitary glands produce melatonin which help us sleep. Some people produce increased melatonin in the winter due to an increase in wake time after sunset.
Here are some suggestions to help beat the winter blues and enjoy these next few months until spring arrives:
1. Expose yourself to light each morning. Open the shades and blinds when you first wake up in the morning. It is thought that exposing ourselves to increased light in the morning can stop melatonin production, trigger our bodies to “wake-up”, and increase energy levels.
2. Get outside! Not only will this help with natural sunlight exposure but looking forward to outside activities such as a walk, skiing, snowshoeing, or snowboarding can help the long winter months become more enjoyable.
3. Exercise. A good workout can stimulate the release of endorphins which will boost your mood. When it is cold outside it can become very easy to give into laziness, like bundling up and watching a movie but most report an increased mood following physical activity..
4. Eat healthy. Often times during the winter months we seek out comfort foods which can be high in carbohydrates and sugar. These ingredients only temporarily give us feelings of euphoria but can be followed by an increased feeling of anxiety and depression.
5. Increase light exposure through the use of a light box. If your busy work schedule doesn’t allow exposure to natural light then a light box can be a suitable replacement when the daylight hours are short. It is recommended to use a light box in the morning hours to increase energy and mood for the day. If used late in the day it may disrupt sleep.
6. Maintain your normal routine, including social activities. We all have a natural desire to hibernate when the temperature drops and it is dark outside. It may be hard to leave the house in the winter but it will help ease any depressed feelings if normal social connections are maintained.
7. Develop winter interests or start a new activity you’ve always wanted to try. Take a class, learn an instrument, or explore a new hobby to have something to look forward to during these long winter months.
And just remember that winter and these early sunsets are temporary. After the winter solstice in December, the sun starts to set a little later each day and spring will be just around the corner. Let’s just hope we have a mild winter this year so we can all get outside more during the daylight hours to increase our sunlight exposure. In the meantime, enjoy your extra hour this weekend as we “fall back” and turn our clocks 1 hour behind Saturday night.