Daylight Savings Time is here and we are all getting less sun! This could bring on Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and the pandemic is probably not helping! SAD can make you feel low and can affect your mood, sleep, appetite, and energy levels. We need to watch out for it because it can also impact your relationships, social life, work, and/or school. Yikes!
So what causes SAD? Research shows that during the shorter, darker days of winter, we get the double whammy of not getting enough Serotonin and too much Melatonin. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that influences mood. Melatonin is a hormone that regulates the sleep-wake cycle. Darkness stimulates the production of Melatonin, preparing the body for sleep. As the winter days get shorter and darker, Melatonin production in the body increases and people tend to feel sleepier and more lethargic. The effects of SAD can leave you feeling like you are a completely different person during the winter than you are in the summer.
Three ways we can reduce our chances of getting SAD are:
- Vitamin D/Light Therapy
- Food therapy
1. Vitamin D
Research shows that levels of Serotonin are higher on bright days than on overcast or cloudy days. In fact, the rate of Serotonin production in the brain is directly related to the duration of bright sunlight exposure each day.
So, whether you have SAD during the winter months, or whether your moods are impacted by cloudy days regardless of the season, get more sunlight to raise Serotonin levels in your brain, increase your wellbeing, positive outlook, and your sunnier disposition! Get as much natural sunlight as possible by getting outside, even if it is cold. Sit outside for 20 minutes, take a walk. Be sure to open blinds, curtains, etc. so that there is as much sunlight in your home or your office as possible. Sit by the window while you are working.
If you cannot get enough natural sunlight, there is exhaustive research and substantial evidence that light therapy—daily use of white or blue light boxes—is one of the most effective ways to treat SAD. Light therapy has been shown to be effective in up to 85 % of SAD cases and starting light therapy before the onset of symptoms in the fall may even help prevent seasonal affective disorder.
Basically, light therapy replaces the daylight that is missing during the winter. Daily light therapy can reduce the Melatonin over-production that can occur during the winter months so that you can feel more awake and alert, and less melancholy.
Light boxes emit a controlled amount of white or blue light, with harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays filtered out. They deliver light that with up to ten times the intensity of normal domestic lighting. You sit about 12 inches in front of a 10,000-lux light box for 15 to 30 minutes each morning.
The light needs to enter your eyes, but you don’t stare directly at the light box. You should continue your morning routine, such as eating breakfast, reading or working at the computer. Most people notice an improvement in their SAD symptoms after just a few days and experience the full antidepressant effect in about two weeks.
A very important note--light therapy may trigger a manic episode if you have bipolar disorder. So, if you have bipolar disorder, do not use light therapy without consulting your Doctor.
We should be doing this anyway for the impact it has on our brain, mood and physical stamina. Exercise in and of itself increases Serotonin levels in the brain. Tip: Exercise while outside in the sunshine which will give you an even bigger, positive impact on Serotonin and endorphin levels, along with helping you get better, quality sleep.
Your diet should include Serotonin and vitamin D-boosting foods.
- Lean Proteins—chicken, fish
- Foods high in Omega 3 fatty acids—Salmon, Flax Seeds, Walnuts, Chia Seeds, Oysters, Soybeans
- Foods high in Vitamin D—Milk, egg yolks, mushrooms. You can also take Vitamin D supplements
- Foods with Tryptophan—Turkey and other poultry, nuts, seeds, eggs, bananas and fish. Tryptophan helps the body to produce Serotonin and Melatonin.
- Dark Chocolate. Yes--you actually have permission to eat Chocolate! A daily dose of dark chocolate—the higher the percentage of cocoa the better—will increase Serotonin and endorphins. Be sure to use moderation! Dark chocolate is high in fat content and calories.
- Watch your sugar intake. Avoid sweets, processed foods and simple carbohydrates. Sugar can lead to blood sugar up’s and down’s and also drain B vitamins that are required for production and absorption of Serotonin.
So, whether you are feeling the effects of SAD or feeling low because it is a cloudy, rainy day, you can feel better! Get as much natural sunlight as you can, supplement with light from a light box, eat foods that promote Serotonin and Vitamin D production, exercise, and throw in some dark chocolate and you can weather another winter!
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