Turn on the lights! Seasonal Affective Disorder
I noticed this change last week. All of a sudden, with the cloudier sky and the shortening days, I felt a little groggier and less energetic. At first, I didn’t know why. But then I remembered that I suffer from symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SADS). I had to look around for my light box (where did I put it at the end of the spring?), but I found it. I read the newspaper in front of my bright light for 30 minutes yesterday. It felt good.
According to the National Institute of Health, symptoms of SADS build up slowly in autumn and early winter and can include increased appetite and weight gain, increased sleep, less energy and ability to concentrate, social withdrawal, loss of interest in work and other activities, and irritability. It is estimated that over 14 million Americans may go into a full-bore depressive episode during short winter months. But 33 million more Americans can have symptoms like mine, and also have declines in cheerfulness, productivity, and energy.
There is no question that some individuals suffer more from these seasonal symptoms than others. There is probably genetic loading for this factor. My ancestors came from the Mideast where there is an abundance of light. Somehow my body and brain reacts to the shortage of winter sunshine in the Northwest!
The biochemical mechanisms of SADS aren’t well understood. Some researchers believe that Melatonin production in the brain is decreased during the low light days of winter. This may contribute to the symptoms of SADS.
Here are some tips for beating these winter blahs and blues.
Dawn simulators and Bright Light boxes. For twenty years, I have had a “dawn simulator” which is globe attached to a clock. Thirty minutes before the alarm goes off, the globe behaves like the rising sun. It gets brighter and brighter over the half hour. I wake to a lightened room. This reduces the grogginess that I used to feel waking in a dark room.
Bright light boxes, or light therapy, should generate 10,000 lux of light. I recommend the larger ones (I use the Verilux Deluxe “Happy Light”). I spend 30-60 minutes a day reading in front of my box. Amazon has a wide variety of boxes and simulators for sale.
Exercise! Regular exercise is a great antidote for the winter blahs. Put on your rain gear and go for a walk. My colleague notes that “there is no bad weather, just bad rain gear.” Getting outside, even in the clouds, is helpful and important for beating these blues.
Don’t stop moving just because it’s winter. Start something new—Zumba, yoga classes, dance classes, or swimming. Mix it up and shake it up.
Increase your chocolate consumption during winter months. Just kidding. Although my wife does swear that a small bit of chocolate goes a long way on a gray day in Washington.
What do you do that helps improve your energy level during winter?