Winter Blues? Here’s What’s Happening

If you find yourself feeling sleepier, more irritable, hungrier (especially for carbs) and more lethargic in the wintertime, you aren’t alone. You may have heard of Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, which refers to a pattern of clinical depression in which symptoms are worse– or only present themselves– during the winter months. But while SAD does affect up to 10% of North Americans, its more common relative Subsyndromal SAD affects up to 20% of us. Subsyndromal SAD consists of the same general symptoms of fatigue, moodiness, cravings, and feeling of “heavy” arms and legs, but may present itself in individuals who are not clinically depressed.

So what causes these winter blues? Sufferers of SAD or Subsyndromal SAD may be genetically predisposed to both depression and sensitivity to light. Research has shown that the decrease in daylight hours and reduced exposure to light can affect the brain’s biological clock. This causes a decrease in levels of serotonin (which impacts our mood and appetite) as well as an increased secretion of melatonin, which makes us sleepy, and/or the release of melatonin at the wrong time of day.

How to Cope

1. Light therapy: Spending 30-45 minutes per day beneath or next to a powerful light has been shown to greatly improve symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorders. Light therapy lamps are generally between 5,000 and 10,000 “lux”: significantly more powerful than regular home or office lighting (between 50 and 500 lux) but still less powerful than direct sunlight (up to 100,000 lux).

2. Find your new winter hobby: Getting outside when the sun is shining– even though it’s cold– is a huge help. This year, try something new to get yourself excited about being outdoors in the winter.

2. Supplement with Vitamin D: One of the big impacts that reduced sunlight has on us is the lack of Vitamin D (sometimes referred to as the sunshine vitamin). Get your Vitamin D levels checked early in the season, and supplement if necessary.

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