Daylight saving time just ended. If you happened to have missed it, let this serve as a reminder to set back your clocks an hour.
A lot of folks gripe about daylight saving time. In fact, a recent petition to eliminate it garnered nearly 250,000 signers.
It complained that having to set back (or set forward) our clocks is an “unnecessary burden that impacts millions of lives twice a year.”
But here’s the thing. Our clocks are only part of the problem…
While where you live and your work-sleep schedule play a big part, this change can mean some people could go days without seeing the sun at all.
And these short days without much daylight can have a dramatic impact on people’s moods. It can have a significant impact on your health.
That’s because our brains really like it when we can soak in the sun… even just a little bit.
And when we don’t get our fix, the brain can get cranky.
But there’s a lot more to it than just being grumpy.
So What’s Going On Here?
Exposure to the sun is believed to cause the brain to release the hormone serotonin. This is known to lead to better mood and can also help people stay more calm and focused.
So when we don’t see much of the sun, our serotonin levels fall. And low levels of this hormone can lead to seasonal depression in the winter.
In that same vein, darkness can cause the brain to release a different hormone called melatonin… which helps us fall asleep.
Symptoms of seasonal depression in the winter can range from no big deal to extremely serious. They include:
- Low energy
- Difficulty concentrating
- Lost interest in activities previously enjoyed
- Changes in appetite or weight
- Feelings of hopelessness
- Thoughts of suicide or death.
But as we hinted at earlier, a lack of sunlight does more to us than just affect our mood.
Research has pinpointed a correlation between low exposure to sunlight and cognitive decline. It can also lead to extreme physical fatigue and the feeling that your limbs are weighed down.
Now, you’re probably asking what a person is supposed to do to fight seasonal depression…
For starters, you can try waking up earlier to get at least some sunlight.
When the clocks are wound backward, the sun starts coming up a little earlier. If you’re able to sync your internal body clock (aka circadian rhythm) with the sunrise, going for an early morning walk is an easy way to battle seasonal depression and get those serotonin levels up.
If that’s not an option (which it isn’t for many), there’s something else you can try…
Many people have found relief from light therapy boxes.
These boxes actually mimic outdoor light and trick your brain into thinking it’s still sunny outside.
Now, there are a lot of products on the market that claim to do the trick. But there are two important factors you want to keep an eye on:
- Light exposure levels
- UV light emission.
You don’t want to blind yourself (but you want it to work too), so look for a light box that emits around 10,000 lux of light.
And you want one that emits as little UV light as possible. Some emit zero UV light, which will avoid damaging your eyes.
All it takes is 20 or 30 minutes of exposure to a light box (preferably first thing in the morning) to reap the benefits… avoid seasonal depression in the winter… and maintain optimal cognitive function.
A healthy lifestyle that includes exercise, a regular sleep schedule and a good diet with lean protein and lots of fruits and vegetables can also ward off seasonal depression.
The changing of the seasons can be rough on the body and mind. But a proactive approach can play a big part in helping you mitigate risks and actually enjoy the short days and long nights of winter.