I used to call the night we turn back the clocks for the end of Daylight Savings Time my “Armegeddon” because it felt as though the darkness of winter descended on that very day—the depressing feeling when you pick up your kids from sports practice in the afternoon or leave your office and it’s already dark. I realize that by the time we get into Daylight Standard Time (or Winter Time), our days have already been getting shorter for four months. In fact, just seven weeks into Daylight Standard Time, we are at winter solstice, which means the days from thereon out begin to grow longer.
We humans are not all that different from plants. Take away our sun, and we begin to wilt. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is pretty easy to understand. As seasons shift, so does the amount of sunlight, which affects your circadian rhythm, the body’s internal biological clock that governs certain brain wave activity and hormone production. In some people, the changing of mood-related chemicals can cause depression. Highly sensitive people are especially prone to depression as the weather changes. Darkness one hour earlier can shock their systems much like jetlag—generating an angry response from their central nervous system.
Here are a few ways I survive the shorter days of winter and try my best not to wilt.
1. Use a sun lamp.
Winding back the clock has always been the universe’s invitation for me to get out my mammoth HappyLite from the bedroom closet and start soaking in the 10,000 lux that I hope soaks lots of sanity into my head.
Bright light therapy has proven to be an effective treatment for season affective disorder, also known as the winter blues. Light boxes are the typical light system used for SAD in clinical studies. They are flat screens that produce full-spectrum fluorescent light, usually at an intensity of 10,000 lux. It is important to position the light box according to the manufacturer’s instructions and use it the same time each day. The light box is typically used for 30 to 60 minutes each day. Best results are found when used before 10 a.m. Some health clubs offer “light box rooms,” where you can go sit in front of the boxes if you can’t afford to buy one for yourself.
The first time I used my sun lamp, I sat in front of it from 9 p.m. to midnight (did not read the directions), and stayed up the whole night. Bipolar folks have to be especially careful when and how long they use it, as too much exposure can trigger mania. Made that mistake. My thinking (as always): If a little bit makes you feel good, a lot has to make you feel even better, right? Wrong.
2. Steal real sunlight
I say “steal” because you have to rearrange your schedule to get as much sunlight as possible between the months of November and March. While I would rather go on my walk in the morning after I drop off the kids from school, I realize I’m not getting as much sunlight then, so now I walk in the afternoon. I also put on my coat and gloves and eat my lunch outside. If you can manage to sneak away from your desk for even ten or fifteen minutes at lunchtime to get outside and look up to the sun, soaking in as many rays as possible, you will get a decent-enough sunshine fix.
Deborah Kotz explains in a US News story that while going outside for only 10 minutes in the midday sun (with no sunscreen) during the summer is enough to produce 10,000 international units (IUs) of vitamin D, it’s impossible to produce vitamin D from the sun if you live north of Atlanta in the winter because the sun never gets high enough in the sky for its ultraviolent B rays to penetrate the atmosphere. That may be true, but I certainly feel better when I can get outside for even fifteen minutes a day during DST, even if it’s just taking a phone call outside shivering in my winter coat.
Dr. Mercola includes an interesting Vitamin D/UV calculator in his piece, “How Much Sunshine Does It Take To Make Vitamin D?” where you can figure out the amount of sun you need to meet your vitamin D requirements. As he explains, it varies HUGELY depending on your location, skin type, time of year, time of day, and atmospheric conditions.
3. Take a Vitamin D supplement
It’s a very good idea to take a Vitamin D supplement during the winter months, especially if can’t plant yourself and your laptop in the Caribbean for 120 days until we “spring forward.” So many diseases today are linked with low Vitamin D, and especially depression. Even if you’re not feeling low, I would absolutely have your levels checked, which your primary care physician can do. The National Institutes of Health suggests a recommended dietary allowance for Vitamin D of 600 IUs a day. However, Dr. Mercola suggests that adults take as much as 5000 units per day. I take 3,000 IUs in a liquid, which seems to absorb better into my system.
Certain foods are good sources of Vitamin D, among them: cod liver oil, swordfish, salmon, tuna fish, milk, yogurt, sardines, eggs, and cereals fortified with Vitamin D.
Join ProjectBeyondBlue.com, the new depression community.
Originally published on Sanity Break.
Photo credit: Zoran Djekic/Stocksy