The long, winter nights can bring on a lull in all of us, whether we suffer from a mental illness (especially Seasonal Affective Disorder – or SAD) or not. I become quite apprehensive of the winter months when autumn sets in, more so because of the short days rather than the miserable weather and cold that comes with it.
The reason why the long nights affect our mood is because when it becomes dark our brain produces a hormone called melatonin, which makes us sleepy. When sunlight hits our eyes this triggers the production of melatonin to lessen, to make us more energetic. This is why you may feel sluggish and tired by six or seven in the evening in December. There are other theories as to why peoples’ moods are affected and why people suffer from SAD, like the over production of melatonin and disruption in our body clocks.
If you feel that the long nights are affecting you, whether it’s your mood, sleep or overall health, then the following tips can help you to elevate the symptoms.
- Wake as the sun rises. It’s important to get as much sunlight as possible. If you are a particular late riser then it may be beneficial to wake up earlier, even if it’s by an hour or two. The sun rises around eight in the morning during December.
- Keep active. Even if it’s laborious housework, a stroll to town or gentle exercises at home, exercise releases endorphins which are known as a ‘happy hormone’. This will make you feel generally better about yourself, as well as giving you more energy.
- Purchase a light box. Light boxes emit a light wave similar to the sun that helps to reduce the production of melatonin. Depending on the manufacturer and instructions from health professionals a session of thirty minutes a day is enough to help relieve symptoms. Bear in mind that there are debates whether light therapy does work.
- Eat healthily. It is easy to munch on mince pies and chocolates, especially around the festive season, but it is important to maintain a healthy diet. Consume the recommended amount of vitamins and minerals, especially fruit and vegetables. Alcohol should be avoided, or at least reduced, as it is a natural depressant.
- Go out during midday. Midday is when the sun is at its highest and strongest. Having a twenty minute walk outside will expose you to enough sunlight to help reduce the production of melatonin.
- Take breaks outside. If you work inside, especially during the small hours of sunlight, then ensure that you take some of your break outside to expose yourself to sunlight. Same reason as above.
If you start to feel worthless, guilty, tearful, difficulty concentrating, irritable, have sleeping problems, eating problems, and so on then please see your doctor as you could be suffering from depression. Once recognised it can be treated.