Winter is here, and with that, many challenges. Cold temperatures, cloudy skies, and shorter daylight hours often contribute to individuals feeling the “wintertime blues.” Do you fantasize about staying on a tropical island during the cold, dark winter months? Or feel like avoiding winter all together? Recent research may help perk up your mood in these cold, dark days.
The winter blues affect people across the globe, but some are more likely to experience it than others. Women, especially in young adulthood, are more likely than men to experience a depressed mood during winter. Those who live in the northern latitude with long nights, short daylight hours, and cold winter temps are more prone to wintertime blues. Fatigue, lethargy, weight gain, and cravings for sweets and carbohydrates may occur. These symptoms resolve as daylight increases and the season changes.
Findings and Theories
Several findings and theories currently exist on the winter blues and the more significant issue of seasonal affective disorder. These include disruption of the circadian rhythm and altered clock genes and greater fluctuation of melatonin with season changes. Other findings include an imbalance in the production of serotonin, dopamine, and other neurotransmitters, insufficient vitamin D levels, and changes in retina (eye) sensitivity and iris pigmentation.
Cutting edge preliminary research suggest changes in parts of the circadian rhythm regulating the brain, glucose metabolism, oxidative stress, and mitochondria contribute to seasonal mood changes.
One of the most studied and effective means of helping individuals with the dark days and the winter blues is to use light therapy. Light boxes of many types exist. Some light boxes are programmed to simulate early dawn as you awaken with 250 lux. More intensive light therapy boxes may provide 2500 – 10,000 lux. Full midday natural sun exposure is about 50,000 -100,000 lux.
Experts recommend that individuals use light therapy for 30 – 60 minutes at the same time every morning shortly after awakening. Other activities like reading and exercise may be done, but you need to face the light for its effectiveness.
Full spectrum light bulbs may be purchased at your local big box and hardware stores. These are not as intense as a light box, but they can provide more natural, brighter light. Make sure you open your curtains/blinds to let in daylight. Even on most cloudy days, natural daylight is brighter than artificial light.
If you have sensitive eyes, use nutrients to protect them from light-induced oxidative stress with light box therapy. More information may be found in the article “Protect Your Precious Eyes From Oxidative Stress.”
Nutrients and Winter Blues
A few key nutrients have been found helpful for the winter blues. These include vitamin D, melatonin, essential fatty acids, magnesium, and vitamin B12 as methylcobalamin. More research is needed to fully understand nutrient needs and benefits.