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Beat the Winter Blues

Beat The Winter Blues - Mind Plus Health, Nelson, NZ

It’s that time of year again, temperatures fall through the floor, we start to feel like we leave for work in the dark, then head home in the dark at the end of the day. It is also the time that many people start to feel tired, flat, worn out, grumpy, or generally miserable. This is commonly called Winter Blues, but not to be beaten to the punch by the general public, the medical researchers have come up with this nifty acronym: SAD, or Seasonal Affective Disorder. So, if the scientists have given the winter blues a very suitable acronym, surely they have found a solution for all the SAD winter people?

Kind of. It seems that the lack of daylight, and not so much cold, rainy and miserable weather, is to blame for the grumps in winter time. As much as some hard-core mates will try to tell you that they are night people and do their best work after dark, we are not a nocturnal species, and our circadian rhythm confirms this. Our doses of wake-up-and-do-stuff (serotonin/cortisol) and sleepy-time-now (melatonin) hormones show an uncanny resemblance to the patterns of light and dark that result from the spinning of the planet. As the days become shorter, and nights become longer, through the winter, we get lower doses of serotonin and cortisol, and a larger hit of melatonin. Most of us during this time continue to charge into life the same way we do during the summer, but without the daylight to tell our body to wake up, we can be left feeling tired and moody.

Winter Blues Graph - Mind+Health

Ideally, we would simply decrease the amount of time we spend doing stuff in the Winter, and sleep for longer, as this is what our body is telling us we need. In studies in the 1930’s, Weston A. Price described how people living in the extreme Northern parts of North America would sleep for 15 hours or more each day during winter months when there was very little daylight and would sleep for less than 4 hours a day during the summer months. These people were described by Price as very healthy. The tiredness happens when we try to keep ticking off our ‘to do’ list when every part of our internal chemistry is screaming “stop now!” And the grumpiness comes when we get this tired and feel like we can’t cope with the demands of life. As most of us have a boss who expects us to turn up and put in a full day of work, kids who want food (bless them), a trainer who expects us to exercise (bless them too, I guess), and many other pressures and expectations from the modern world, shutting down and doing less is not an option in Winter.

We managed to do all this life stuff, and more, through the summer with no issues, so it is suggested that SAD individuals see the light, in more of a literal way than a divine way. One suggestion is to create a light box alarm. If you are having to set an alarm to wake up in the dark during winter, set a full spectrum light box attached to a timer next to your bed to switch on 10 minutes before you wake up. This will give you a blast of sunlight to lift serotonin and cortisol levels and decrease melatonin levels first thing in the morning. Full spectrum light boxes can be found from online hydroponics stores. Fixing SAD symptoms is a much better use for them than growing… uh… “tomatoes?” Once out of bed, switch on lights in the house, full spectrum bulbs if you can find them, to let your body know that it is daytime. Through the day, try to spend as much time in the natural light as you can. If you are in an office with artificial light, put a light box on the side of your desk.

Reverse this pattern in the evening. Let your body know that it is chill out time by dimming lights inside at night and allowing the natural decrease of serotonin/cortisol and increase of melatonin to take place. Limit screen time in the evening too. The blue light smashing into you from your favourite device is suppressing this switch from happening and messing up your chance of having a decent sleep. The best time to be active is in the morning. After lunch, decrease activity levels to improve your chances of a good sleep.

Maintaining good patterns of rest and activity that fit in with patterns of light and dark through the winter months is the best way to avoid the winter blues this year.

Feel free to contact me with any questions or make an appointment, text/phone 021 99 00 54 or email [email protected]

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