Get More Light for a Better Mood in Winter

Tomorrow is the shortest day of the year. Seasonal affective disorder — a form of depression caused by the changing of the seasons — impacts about three percent of the population. Even more people struggle with their mood when the days are short. A lack of daylight throws off your circadian rhythm and internal balance. You can feel tired, irritable, unhappy, disinterested in social activities, and it can lead to weight gain.

To get more daylight, the first step is to not sleep in. Light exposure in the morning cues your body to stop making the sleepy hormone melatonin. Eat breakfast in a sunny spot to remind your brain you are awake and the day has fully started!

Go outside in the midday sun! In the summer, we tell you to avoid the hot midday hours. Right now, there is no reason to. You probably aren’t getting enough vitamin D. A supplement can help, but getting it from exposure is excellent too. If you want to take a supplement, discuss it with your doctor just like any other supplement you would add to your routine.

If it is impossible to get more natural light into your day, light therapy, or phototherapy, uses special lamps to give you more exposure to specific types of light. A lightbox or therapy lamp works like a standard lamp that you plug in and then sit close to so your eyes and skin can absorb the light for a specific amount of time. The amount of time you need depends on how close you sit to it and what results you are looking to achieve. The light mimics daylight and causes the brain to produce serotonin. Like natural sunlight, you don’t look directly at the light.

Most people use a therapy light to kick off the day early and get sunlight before the real sun comes up late in the winter morning. But, some use it to keep the daylight going when the sun sets early in the afternoon — although that can through off sleep patterns. Light therapy looks different for everyone. It really depends on a person’s needs. If a lightbox is something you are interested in, speak to your doctor. Many insurance plans cover them.

Simply getting more daylight and getting out more can be enough for some people. In winter, you might just need to make more of an effort to be outside. It could be that an extra 10 or 15 minutes of being outdoors or near a window could help lift your mood. However, if that simple fix doesn’t improve how you feel, speak to your doctor about light therapy; it might be right for you!

Banner image: Daniel Schwarz

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