Is this weather making you SAD? Are the short days causing you to sleep more and exercise less? Have you been craving sweets and gaining weight? Are you having trouble getting out of bed in the morning? The winter blues seem to be a Northwest Epidemic.
WHY DO WE HAVE WINTER BLUES?
The amount of natural light that enters your body through your eyes (retina) and interacts with your skin has dramatic affects on the whole body. Your circadian rhythm is based on the amount of natural (or full spectrum) light that registers in your eyes. This tells your brain when you should be awake but it also affects your production of the happy neurotransmitter Serotonin. That is right, the amount of light outside literally affects your brain chemistry. The low levels of Serotonin that happen during the winter can lead to symptoms of depression, low mood, lack of motivation, oversleeping and overeating (especially sweets). If these symptoms are dramatic they are diagnosed as a depressive disorder called SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder), but the amount of light outside affects everyone.
VITAMIN D DEFICIENCY
The lack of light also affects your Vitamin D levels which has an additional affect on your mood. In the Great Northwest the majority of people who are not on Vitamin D supplementation are deficient in Vitamin D. Everyone should know what their Vitamin D levels are. To find out all you need is a simple blood test of Vitamin D 25, OH (25-hydroxycholecalciferol, D2 + D3). An optimal Vitamin D level is 40-100 ng/mL. The symptoms of Vitamin D deficiency include fatigue, low mood, bone loss (osteoporosis), and hormone imbalance. Supplementation of Vitamin D should be done with a D3 form and unless directed by a physician should not exceed 2000 IU each day. Remember to take your fat soluble Vitamin D supplements with a meal.
FULL SPECTRUM LIGHT
You might also want to consider treating the cause of the Winter Blues by exposing yourself to full spectrum light. Research on light therapy is well documented to improve mood and motivation. There are several lightbox units commercially available. You can also switch out some of your household light bulbs for full spectrum light. Use these full spectrum lights during the daytime hours but switch them off at night to prevent disturbing your sleep.
If you have not done so already discuss your Winter Blues with your doctor, or if you are looking for a more natural approach, consider Naturopathic Medicine. Naturopathic Medicine focuses on treating the cause of all that ails you.
Dr. Knutson is a Naturopathic Doctor and Licensed acupuncturist. She may be reached at Health Moves