As the nights begin to draw in, you may notice some changes within your body and mind as a result of the shorter hours of daylight.
For many people, the darker days are little more than a nuisance, but for some the changing seasons can bring depression and disrupted sleep patterns.
It’s not clear why some people are affected more than others, but it may be genetic. It may be worth asking relatives if there’s a family history of Seasonal Affective Disorder.
While humans don’t naturally hibernate, the darker mornings can make it harder to wake up and motivate yourself in the morning. You might feel groggy or want to stay in bed for longer than you normally would.
If you’re really struggling, you could be suffering from SAD.
What are the symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder?
Seasonal Affective Disorder is a type of seasonal depression, generally caused by a lack of natural light in the winter months. If you experience SAD, you might notice that you feel a persistent low mood and don’t enjoy activities that you normally find fun.
Tiredness is another common symptom. You may feel more tired than normal during the day and find it difficult to get out of bed in the morning. You may also find that you crave foods packed with carbohydrates much more than usual too.
If you experience low moods over a long period of time, then it’s worth visiting your doctor to rule out depression.
We spoke to psychotherapist Noel McDermott to answer some common questions about SAD and its causes…
Is Vitamin D good for SAD?
There is no clear evidence of a direct link, probably because the correct trials have not been conducted. There is lots of clinical evidence and self-reports that Vitamin D helps with mood regulation. Vitamin D is produced in the skin when exposed to broad spectrum light (daylight) so it’s seen as having a link. The daylight certainly helps with SAD.
What is the best treatment for SAD?
Broad spectrum light therapy (sad lamps/bulbs) definitely help reduce SAD symptoms. Daylight is a natural anti-depressant. Exercise is good for depression. Certain food supplements can help, St John’s Wort, 5HTP. Learning about the condition will also help.
Who is at risk for getting SAD?
The best indicator of future risk is previous history. So if you have suffered from depression be aware of seasonal changes that can affect mood. Going into winter stressed or depressed will on raise your risk of depression during the winter. Family history is also a risk factor. To some extent all people will feel a shift in mood to be more depressed during the winter months, this is normal, it’s just we notice it more because of our modern lifestyle.
Why do we get SAD?
SAD is triggered by changes to daylight and lifestyle due to being indoors during the hours the sun is out so we miss it. Additional risk factors are as above.
How long does SAD last?
SAD only last during the shortened days and will peak mid-winter, it can be reduced by using broad spectrum light therapy, reorganising your work to go out during the day.
Do daylight lamps really work?
Yes, broad spectrum light therapy really works!
Take our quiz to find out if you’re affected by SAD
Looking for more quizzes? Take our stress quiz to find out how stressed you are right now. Do you have a short fuse? Read our top tips for controlling your temper – plus take our anger quiz. Are you a morning person or a night person? Take our quiz to find out when you work best.
How to cope with the winter blues
Get more daylight
This is one of the easiest ways to improve the symptoms of SAD. Try to make a habit of getting outside during the day to get some daylight even if it’s just a quick 15 minutes during your lunch break.
Try regular exercise
In the Norwegian city of Tromsø, the sun barely rises between November and January as it’s actually in the Arctic Circle.
Unsurprisingly, the locals have had to learn to adapt to the darkness. One way they do this is through sport – it’s not unusual for Norwegians to go hiking, skiing and even camping in the winter months.
Some even don a head torch and go skiing in the dark after work. Read more about how to love winter the Norwegian way.
Doing some form of regular exercise through the winter will help to stave off SAD.
Get more vitamin D
Studies have found that SAD sufferers are often lacking in vitamin D, but not enough research has been done to prove that vitamin D supplements will prevent SAD.
That said, getting more vitamin D in your diet can only be a good thing and may improve your mood. Foods high in vitamin D include mushrooms (if you put them in daylight for 30 minutes before eating), oily fish, dairy products, fortified cereals and egg yolks.
Try to reduce your stress levels
Self-care is particularly important if you’re affected by SAD. Look at areas in your life where you can reduce stress and try to avoid taking on new commitments.
Be kind to yourself and plan in downtime so you can treat yourself.
Be more sociable
You might not feel like it, but you shouldn’t feel as though your social life stops in the winter. Spending more time with family and friends will help you to feel more supported.
Joining a local support group in your area may also be beneficial – the charity Mind can connect you to support groups you can join in the UK.
Get a daylight lamp
If you’re not able to spend much time outdoors during the winter, it could be worth investing in a daylight lamp.
Be warned though – these are not cheap with prices starting at around £40. It’s worth getting a proper diagnosis before shelling out for one of these.
Use a daylight alarm clock
For those who struggle to wake up in the morning, a daylight lamp could come in handy. These clocks gradually light up in the morning to help you wake up more naturally.
They can also help you to fall asleep more naturally as you can set the lamp to gradually dim as you nod off.
Using a daylight alarm clock will help you to regulate your sleep patterns and control your circadian rhythms.
Photo by Alex Vans-Colina, Kira auf der Heide, freestocks.org, Jenn Kosar and Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash.