As the holiday season comes to an end, the dark days and cold temperatures seem to become increasingly unbearable. For some individuals, the “winter blues” may be a more serious condition called seasonal affective disorder.
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) – also known as winter blues – is a type of depression due to the change in seasons. Typically, it begins during fall and continues during the months of winter. The reduced number of daylight hours during winter and cold temperatures can trigger SAD. The lack of sunlight may throw off the circadian rhythm (an individual’s biological clock) and may cause a drop in serotonin, the happy chemical, which leads to feelings of depression.
The shorter daylight hours produce more melatonin, which is the body’s sleep hormone. An overproduction of melatonin can lead to feelings of tiredness, lethargy, and depression.
Common symptoms of winter blues:
- Low energy levels
- Feeling sluggish and tired
- Difficulty concentrating
- Feeling irritable and moody
- Changes in weight and appetite –cravings for carbohydrates
- Withdrawing from friends and family
- Feeling hopeless or worthless
- Suicidal thoughts
- Light therapy is a popular and effective treatment for winter blues. Light therapy involves sitting close to a light box for 30 minutes each day after waking up. Your eyes must be open during the light therapy session. Individuals can use the time to read, eat, or catch up on work. Light therapy can bring down the abnormally high level of melatonin to a normal level. Natural sunlight is also beneficial. It is highly encouraged to get outside whenever the sun is out to improve your mood!
- A healthy diet is essential to beating feelings of depression. Although, you may be craving sugary foods and carbohydrates, it is important to maintain a healthy diet filled with fruit, vegetables, protein and healthy fats. Eating better will help increase energy levels. Sugary foods and carbohydrates can still be enjoyed, in moderation.
- Exercise is also known as nature’s antidepressant. Exercise can increase serotonin, dopamine and endorphins which can boost an individual’s overall mood. Exercise can be as simple as a 15 minute walk outside or on a treadmill.
- Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is known as “talk therapy.” CBT allows individuals to recognize and understand their negative thoughts and behavioural patterns. CBT teaches individuals how to challenge negative thoughts and create coping strategies to reduce anxiety/depression.
- Medication may be necessary if other treatments do not help. It is important to consult your physician if SAD is affecting your ability to enjoy life.
Learn about the latest research related to SAD below:
1. Does light therapy help depression and sleep quality?
Among individuals with Alzheimer’s disease, 15% have impaired sleep quality. For this reason, researchers have found that cognitive impairment and sleep quality are linked. Researchers in Hong Kong investigated the effects of light therapy on behavioural disturbances, depression, and sleep disorders in cognitively impaired adults. The results of this study were published in The American Geriatrics Society. Read more to find out if light therapy helps depression and sleep quality here.
2. Can light therapy reduce symptoms of bipolar depression?
The circadian rhythm is the body’s way of knowing what time of day it is and whether it should be awake or asleep. Light therapy is known to help the circadian rhythm to reduce symptoms of seasonal affective disorder and sleep disorders. Bipolar depression refers to when an individual experiences “highs” such as mania or euphoria to “low” such as depression and sadness. Read more to find out if light therapy reduces symptoms of bipolar depression here.
3. The best ways to get vitamin D in the winter
Vitamin D is essential to growing and maintaining strong bones and teeth. Ultraviolet rays from sunlight help the body to produce vitamin D. Individuals living in Canada and the northern United States are unable to get enough vitamin D from the sun between the months of November and March. One way to get vitamin D this winter is to spend time in the sun, whether it be going for a quick walk midday or planning a vacation to somewhere sunny. Read more to find out 2 other ways you can get vitamin D this winter here.
Written by Alana Punit
- Bernshtein, Maor. “Can Light Therapy Reduce Symptoms Of Bipolar Depression?”. Medical News Bulletin, 2018, https://www.medicalnewsbulletin.com/light-therapy-reduce-bipolar-depression/. Accessed 10 Jan 2019.
- “Do You Have The Winter Blues?”. Nhs.Uk, 2018, https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/stress-anxiety-depression/winter-blues-sad/. Accessed 10 Jan 2019.
- Duggal, Pratibha. “3 Best Ways To Get Vitamin D This Winter”. Medical News Bulletin, 2018, https://www.medicalnewsbulletin.com/3-best-ways-get-vitamin-d/. Accessed 10 Jan 2019.
- Lanier, Viola. “Does Light Therapy Help Depression And Sleep Quality?”. Medical News Bulletin, 2018, https://www.medicalnewsbulletin.com/light-therapy-depression-sleep-quality/. Accessed 10 Jan 2019.
- “Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) – Symptoms And Causes”. Mayo Clinic, 2017, https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/seasonal-affective-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20364651. Accessed 10 Jan 2019.
- “Seasonal Affective Disorder SAD”. CAMH, 2018, https://www.camh.ca/en/health-info/mental-illness-and-addiction-index/seasonal-affective-disorder. Accessed 10 Jan 2019.