November 11, 2021
On Sunday November 7th, we traveled back in time. Not the Marty McFly kind of time-travelling, but the changing-of-the-clocks kind, which is, for many, not a happy time.
Daylight Savings Time, when the clocks either ‘fall back’ or spring ahead,’ depending on the season and takes place twice a year. It is meant to maximize the amount of daylight hours available to complete daily chores. In the late fall/early winter, this means the days get dark an hour earlier. However, the combination of the earlier sunsets, and the generally shorter days, can affect people’s mental health. These shorter days can give some people a case of the ‘Winter Blues,’ otherwise known as Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD.
SAD is a condition in which people experience low mood or depression when exposure to sunlight becomes more limited. Daylight Savings time can often act as a trigger for SAD. It affects nearly 10 million Americans. Women are four times more affected than men. SAD can lead to weight gain, sluggishness, oversleeping, and feeling generally unmotivated.
There is no singular reason why people are affected by limited daylight, but some experts believe that one of the culprits is from the change in our circadian rhythm. The circadian rhythm is an internal clock that regulates our sleep-wake cycle. These rhythms respond to the environment and are affected by the daily rising and setting of the syn, the light-dark cycles. When the sun sets, the body naturally starts producing melatonin to prepare the body to sleep. On the flip side, when the sun rises, sunlight causes the body to produce serotonin, which boosts mood, and makes you feel calm and focused. With less light, the combination of the up-regulation of melatonin and the down-regulation of serotonin, particularly in those who may tend toward depressive feelings, can cause people to feel moody, socially withdrawn, and hopeless.
What can you do to stay motivated and improve your mood during this change of season? Many people use sunlight lamps to help mimic the light you would ordinarily get from the sun in the summer. This type of light therapy is becoming an increasingly popular way to minimize SAD. The best approach is to get a sun lamp with 10,000 lux and sit in front of it for 30 minutes a day. Ideally this should be done as early in the morning as possible.
Some good sun lamp choices include:
Verilux Happy Light Lux- These personal light lamps are small and easily transportable. They are reasonably priced so can fit in most budgets.
Philips Smart Sleep- This day/night lamp helps people who struggle with their sleep/wake cycle. These clever lamps simulate natural sunrise to help you wake up refreshed in the morning, as well as providing a helpful wind-down at night. This lamp is a bit more expensive, but it has more features to help beat the seasonal blues.
Carex Day-Light Classic- These lamps are much larger and can be used for multiple people. Voted best light for SAD by Wirecutter, it’s a great option when multiple people need to use it simultaneously.
I hope you find these suggestions useful. If you're finding that you're developing symptoms of SAD and the light therapy is not working for you, please seek out the assistance of your health care provider for other ideas on how to improve winter mood.
Dr Morrison from TMC and Tapp Franke Ingolia from StandWellness