Winters can be long and dark, and for some people, the impact can be very intense. Up to a third of people in the United States experience a decrease in mood and energy during the winter. Scientific research has established that changes in light (shorter days, less intense sunlight, and later dawns) are the main cause of the winter blues. This can be called seasonal affective disorder (SAD) – a subtype of major depression that comes and goes based on seasons. SAD symptoms usually appear during late fall or early winter and stay until sunnier days come back, in the spring and summer. Symptoms can start out mild and become worse as the winter season progresses.
Our bodily processes rely in a large part on cues from visual light. Ideally, the sun alerts us to wake up, and nighttime darkness prepares us to retreat for sleep. The changes in quantity and schedule of light, including less winter light exposure, can throw the body’s internal rhythms out of whack, negatively affecting mood, energy, appetite, and mental acuity – creating the ‘blues.’
Melatonin plays a big part in controlling the body’s internal clock. A hormone that regulates sleep and wake cycles, melatonin is made from the same molecule that produces serotonin, an important neurotransmitter that helps create feelings of well-being. In the winter, longer nights cause the brain to produce and release more melatonin — at the expense of serotonin production. Without as much serotonin, people often end up feeling more down.
Follow our blog over the next week and a half to learn more about seasonal affective disorder, including:
- How it relates to diabetes
- Treatments and small changes to lessen the impact
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