The gray days of winter bring many people down, but a few simple steps can pep you up, an expert says.
A condition known as seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, can cause feelings of sadness or depression, lack of energy, problems sleeping, moodiness, changes in appetite and loss of interest in usual activities.
“It is most common among people who live far north or south of the equator and usually occurs in fall and winter, although some people experience SAD in the spring,” said Dr. Madhavi Singh, a family medicine doctor with Penn State Health.
“More women than men are diagnosed with this disorder, which most commonly appears between ages 20 and 30,” Singh said in a health system news release.
Although the causes of SAD aren’t known, it’s thought that three factors are involved. Shorter days may disrupt your body clock and affect sleep, while a drop in serotonin levels linked to reduced sunlight can affect mood. Also, lower melatonin levels that occur in cold months with less sunlight can disrupt sleep.
To help chase the winter blues, Singh recommended the following:
- Get more light into your home by turning lights on, opening blinds, and cutting back bushes that block windows.
- Take a 60-minute walk outdoors every day, even if it’s cloudy.
- Exercise three or four hours before going to bed.
- Fight the temptation to stay indoors. Keep socially active.
- Don’t drink caffeine in the afternoon or evening.
- Don’t go to bed hungry—have a light snack.
- Don’t take your smartphone or tablet to bed—keep the room dark.
- Keep a regular sleep schedule.
- Sleep only as much as needed to feel rested.
If you suffer from SAD, see your doctor, Singh said.
One of the most effective treatments is light therapy, she said. The treatment uses a special light box that emits full-spectrum light, similar to sunlight.
Therapy often involves sitting for 30 to 60 minutes a few feet from the light box first thing each morning. Daily light therapy often shows results in a few days or weeks, but should be continued until spring when sunlight increases.
In addition to light therapy, a doctor might prescribe an antidepressant. Psychotherapy can also help people learn ways of coping, Singh said.