The alarm clock goes off and a cheerful voice warns you to bundle up; 20 degrees will be the high. The sun still has to rise, and you know frost covers your car. You moan, roll over, and pull the covers over your head. Convincing yourself to get up and out of bed means hitting the snooze button at least five times. You won’t have time for a shower, but you don’t care. Cooking takes too much energy, so you pick up a warm chocolate doughnut and a soda on the way out. Today feels worse than yesterday. For you, winter is the longest season of the year.
An estimated 10 to 20 percent of Americans suffer from what is called Seasonal Affective Disorder, SAD, or winter blues. Dr. Jack L. Jensen, Ed.D., director of Psychological Services at Utah Valley University, compares what a person might feel to a bear going into hibernation. “A person will feel sluggish, not as perky, and experience low energy,” he says. These feelings tend to get stronger around Halloween and typically last until spring. SAD is a mild depression that takes on the personality of the person experiencing it.
Research shows that women may suffer from SAD more often than men, and genes may play into how a person feels. Jensen says that people who have ancestors from northern countries may find themselves more prone to SAD, but that may vary from person to person.
The list of ways to cope with SAD is long and varied. It includes treating yourself to something, embracing the season, lighting candles, getting some sleep, walking outside when the sun is out, and volunteering. But for many, simply getting out of bed to do those activities is a daily battle. The idea of preparing a holiday dinner becomes overwhelming and all one wants to do is sleep. So what really works?
Jensen explains the reason someone may experience these feelings is due to the hormone melatonin. “Melatonin is the sleep hormone,” he says. “When the sun rises, melatonin decreases, allowing us to wake up. When the sun comes up later (such as in winter), a person with SAD experiences higher levels of melatonin. They have a harder time getting out of bed.”
The first thing to do to beat the winter blues is counteract the lack of sun in the morning. Light therapy helps decrease melatonin when used in the morning and on a regular basis. Special blue ray lamps act as the sun to our bodies and may give an extra boost in the morning. Leaving the lamp on for 45 minutes can be the difference to brighter days for some people.
Lamp sizes vary (try websites like fullspectrumsolutions.com or lighttherapyproducts.com). Jensen suggests that a person with SAD may find benefits from waking up with the lamps when the sun doesn’t wake up with them. “Our bodies absorb the blue light through the eyes,” Jensen says.
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