SAD is more common than you think and is said to affect over 2 million people in the UK and is almost certain to increase. The reason for such a high number of sufferers is down to working indoors, longer working hours in artificial light, too many grey days during the winter and more shift work resulting in us all not getting enough natural daylight. When immersed in our hectic lives we often miss critical signals from the sun, and our body clocks suffer. So without proper morning light our body clocks don’t produce the hormones we need to wake up and get going. Then when we miss daytime light, we slump and become less productive. At night we then stay up hours after dark, causing sleep and mood problems. In fact, how we sleep, how active we are, and how we feel are all regulated by our body clock. When your body clock doesn’t get the right light signals, you tend to feel tired, moody and sluggish resulting in SAD.
The severity of your symptoms will determine whether you are suffering from the winter blues or SAD. People with SAD say they feel like a completely different person during the winter, often finding it hard to function normally or like they would do, in the summer.
Switch to only high quality full spectrum light bulbs in your home and office, people tend to feel a profound increase of energy and improvement in mood and sense of well-being within two to three days after exposure to full-spectrum lighting.
Here’s what I recommend you do during the winter months to try and overcome SAD, especially when people when feel less inclined to be outside…
- Exercise – physical exercise has numerous health benefits, one of which is improved mood control, and is said to be one of the most beneficial things you can do to prevent depression.
- Omega 3 – Taking animal based omega 3 fats like Krill Oil, Chia Seeds and Flax Seed Oil are linked to better emotional health.
- Plenty of sleep – You were designed to go to sleep when the sun sets and wake up when the sun rises. If you stray too far from this biological pattern you will disrupt delicate hormonal cycles in the body. In winter, this may mean that you’ll want to go to sleep a couple of hours earlier than in the summer.
- Avoid grains and sugars – These will increase your risk of insulin resistance, which is linked to depression.
- Light therapy – this might be as simple as getting up early and walking outside on a bright winter morning. A technique called “dawn simulation” – in which a light is programmed to turn on early in the morning in your bedroom – can also help.
- Light boxes – exposure to a light box can help, when buying one choose one that’s at least 1ft by 1.5ft. These larger boxes have more supportive research. Sit in front of the light box daily for a specified amount of time. Getting bright light in the morning is best for most people.
- Run errands when it’s sunny outside or take a walk during your lunch break.
- Avoid alcohol (remember it’s a depressant).
These supplements taken during the winter months will help…
- Vitamin D is known as the sunshine vitamin and really helps the symptoms of SAD. Food sources include eggs, poultry and oily fish. Vitamin D taken as a supplement in sufficient doses can actually replace some sunlight exposure and help increase serotonin levels in someone affected by SAD. The recommended dosage of vitamin D would vary from person to person, for someone who suffers from SAD, research is now showing that taking up to 1000 to 4000 IU per day can provide additional benefits from SAD symptoms without any adverse affects on the user. It’s best to consult your health care professional for the proper vitamin D dosage for you.
- Sweet foods and carbohydrates are often the things we crave when we are feeling down, but these have the opposite effect of boosting our mood, as we are sent on a blood sugar spiral.
- Introducing nuts and seeds can help to keep your blood sugar levels stable, as well as provide you with essential fats.
- 5-HTP can be used by your body to make serotonin so supplementing with 5-HTP is a safe way to boost your serotonin levels. However 5-HTP cannot be taken alongside anti-depressant SSRIs or monoamine oxidase inhibitors. Vitamin B6 and magnesium are important ingredients in the biochemical recipe that creates serotonin so these are important too.
- Winter depression is caused by low levels of serotonin. St John’s Wort blocks an enzyme that breaks down serotonin in the bloodstream and so helps to maintain serotonin levels.
- The Russian herb, Rhodiola, which is known as an anti-stress tonic, works in a different way; its natural chemicals improve the production of serotonin and help it get to the brain.