As the dark nights and short days of winter are upon is, it is not uncommon to feel more tired, lower energy, and a desire to stay inside a warm house and cozy up with a good book. For many of us, this is a passing experience that can be cured by a weekend getaway or a few sunny days. However, for some, these symptoms can be indicative of a form of depression called Season Affective Disorder. According to the web site familydoctor.org, as many as ½ a million people have Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). It is not surprising that SAD is more common in the Northern part of the country. Symptoms of winter-onset Seasonal Affective Disorder include: loss of energy, depression, anxiety, oversleeping, changes in appetite and difficulty concentrating. There are a number of natural ways to treat SAD.
Shorter days and longer nights can cause in increase in Melatonin; a hormone which helps us to sleep. During the winter months, our body produces an increase in melatonin which can cause us to feel sleepy and lethargic. Melatonins main function is to induce sleep by traveling through the bloodstream during our deepest sleep time. Typically, melatonin secretion peaks in the middle of the night. However, according to a 1994 study by the Russian Academy of Medical Science, SAD patients had higher daytime levels of melatonin during the winter months. Research has shown that taking melatonin supplements at 9-10pm to induce sleep will help your sleep cycle shift back to normal and allow you to wake earlier in the morning. In essence, melatonin can help reset the body’s internal clock.
Full Spectrum Lighting
When we suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder or winter depression we are missing the exposure to natural light that we enjoy with the longer days of summer time. The closest thing to natural daylight is full spectrum lighting. According to the web site fullspectrumsolutions.com, “simulated full spectrum light is color-corrected light that operates in the range of 400 to 800 nanometers which will simulate the optical brilliance of outdoor light at noontime”. Sunlight is considered full spectrum lighting. Oftentimes, full spectrum lighting is available through “light boxes” that emulate natural sunlight. The most effective time to use full spectrum lighting is in the morning, when we first wake and we can get the natural daylight rhythm of our body started.
Vitamin D is manufactured in our bodies when we are exposed to natural sunlight. During the winter months, most of us are not exposed to adequate amounts of sunlight. You can get vitamin D through some foods like fatty fish and fortified milk however; it is very difficult to get adequate amounts of Vitamin D from our diet. A simple blood test can determine if you are deficient . The current RDI of Vitamin D is 400 international units a day but many experts say that is too low. The new suggestion is closer to 2,000 IUs a day.
Essential Fatty acids
Omega-3 and 6 fatty acid supplements have been shown to relieve depression symptoms in some studies. Sources of omega-3s include fatty, cold-water fish, such as salmon, mackerel and herring. Flaxseed, flax oil and walnuts also contain omega-3 fatty acids, and small amounts are found in soybean and canola oils. Oftentimes it is hard to get adequate amounts of omega-3 fatty acids through diet. According to Dr. Jen Green, Naturopathic Physician, the balance between omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids (2:1 ration) is important. Sources of Omega 6 include evening primrose oil, borage, safflower, sesame, peanut, corn and soya oil and should be used moderately. You can purchase Essential Fatty Acid supplements at most local health food stores, groceries and pharmacy’s.
Acupuncture works with our bodies own life force/energy – which is called Qi. During times of darkness and cold weather, our tendency is to hibernate. We may feel tired easily and not as motivated to get moving. This can often cause our qi energy to either get depleted (deficient) or stagnant (stuck). Acupuncture is a way to naturally balance our qi and keep our meridians (energy pathways) open and moving freely.
It is important to pay attention to any subtle changes in your outlook, energy level and sleep patterns during the winter month’s as they can be indicators of SAD. When caught early, the simple solutions above can be very helpful in navigating the challenging winter’s in the Midwest.