The cold and dark day’s of winter can dampen our spirits and trigger anxiety, fatigue, and depression. It’s a time that some people dread. Our bodies respond to the rising and setting of the sun and it can have an impact on our daily routine as we lose more daylight hours. Many of us leave for work before it gets light and see the sun set while we are still at work, resulting in a very dark day with little to no daylight. Yet our bodies need at least a bit of daylight to manage our internal clock. The sunlight tells our brain to stop producing melatonin, a chemical that aids in sleep. Melatonin starts to activate around eight o’clock at night and peaks during sleep. In the morning, it is suppressed by the appearance of daylight. Without sufficient light to suppress the release of melatonin our circadian system (internal clock) will become out of sync with our daily routine. When it’s time to get up, our body tells us to keep sleeping until the sun comes up. This disconnect makes it very hard for some people and will result in feelings of depression, withdrawal, carbohydrate cravings, and weight gain. In order to minimize this effect, studies have shown that just 20 minutes a day of a light that simulates sunlight is enough to make a difference. This exposure to light should be in the morning hours for maximum effect. Ideally if you have a chance to get outside in the daylight in the morning for one to two hours, that would be the best exposure to light. If you can’t do that sitting next to or facing a window will also help. If you do not have a window, add more light to your workstation (desk lamps, light therapy lamps, etc.). Some spas have sunlight therapy rooms that can give you an hour of sunlight simulation which has the same effect as 20 minutes of outdoor sunlight.
When you can, take every opportunity to get out into the sunlight or sit by a window. Absorb as much natural light as you can each day and complement that with sunlight therapy lamps. The winter won’t seem so long and dreary and you’ll be healthier for it.