The holidays, which are swiftly approaching, have a sinister side (and we’re not talking about the Grinch). This time of year brings more than just parties and cheer. Colder weather and darker days often travel in the wake of the holiday glee. The shortest day of the year yields just over 9 hours of sunlight for most of the United States. That’s 6 hours less than the longest day of the year, which occurs in June. This lack of light can make the jolly season feel downright depressing. If you experience the blues during the month of red and green, you’re not alone; nor are you imagining things. Sunlight is vital for health and well-being.
Sunlight’s Brain Altering Powers
Both the body’s creation of vitamin D and the brain’s production of serotonin are affected by sunlight. Studies show that our production of serotonin, the hormone linked to happiness, increases as we are exposed to bright light for longer periods of time.
The same goes for vitamin D, a vitamin that has been linked to positive mood thanks to it’s ability to help regulate the release of neurotransmitters. The ultraviolet radiation from sunlight allows our skin to produce vitamin D. This process is important because vitamin D isn’t readily found in food; therefore we have to rely on our bodies to create it using sunlight.
Because vitamin D isn’t found in many foods, vitamin D deficiency is a serious issue, especially for people who live in locations with less sunlight (like Iceland, the Northeastern United States, etc.). Because sunlight is limited in the wintertime, vitamin D deficiency can become even more prevalent in the colder, darker months.
The lower levels of serotonin and vitamin D that many of us experience in the wintertime have been linked to seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a type of depression that occurs due to seasonal weather changes. Symptoms of SAD include hypersomina (excessive sleep), moodiness and irritability, fatigue, issues getting along with people and an increased desire to be alone, changes in appetite (usually an increased craving for high carb foods), and weight gain. It’s believed that this seasonal disorder affects over 10 million Americans during any given year.
How Can You Combat SAD?
Just because winter is approaching doesn’t mean you have to resign yourself to the effects of SAD. There are ways you can combat seasonal depression:
- Take a Vitamin D supplement
- Use a sunlight lamp
- Spend more time outdoors
If you aren’t already taking a Vitamin D supplement, you should. If you’re unsure of whether a supplement is right for you, consult your doctor.
Sunlight lamps are special lamps that emit light that is the equivalent of sunlight (without the harmful ultraviolet radiation). Sitting in front of one of these lamps for 15 mins- 1 hour each day can trick your brain into producing more serotonin. We recommend the lamp featured in the link below; it’s affordable and effective, while still compact for convenient portability and easy storage.
Spending more time outdoor during the winter can also help combat the blues. Although the sun isn’t as strong as during the summer months, every bit of sun exposure helps. Consider going for more walks, moving your workouts outdoors when the weather allows, or- better yet- meditate outside when it’s not too cold.
Countless studies have shown that meditation is often as effective as medications prescribed for mood disorders. If you’re new to meditation, sign up for an introductory course to learn the basics.
If you find yourself a little blue during the colder months, talk to your doctor about taking a vitamin D supplement, consider using a light box, prioritize time outdoors when it’s not too cold, and adopt a daily meditation practice. By doing so, you can proactively fight off the wintertime blues.