The winter months can be an opportunity to slow down, or take a break after the longer, possibly more adventurous days of summer. But for many people the decrease in daylight and outdoor activity, can have ill-effects on energy levels, appetite, motivation, mood and sleep. This overall sense of well-being may feel completely different in the winter compared to summer. Sadness that seems to be a daily occurrence during the winter months affecting work, school and relationships may be classified as Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD.

SAD may affect approximately 1-2% of the population while a milder form of winter blues may affect as many as 20-30% of the population. It’s important to identify when winter blues or SAD turns into something more severe or more chronic.

Why do I feel more tired and have a lower mood during the winter?

A disrupted circadian rhythm: 

The body has an internal clock that helps you to wake in the morning and fall asleep at night. This clock is dependent on sunlight, so when the days are darker for longer periods of time, your body may produce more melatonin. This makes you feel tired for more hours of the day.

Low Serotonin Production, the happy hormone:

Serotonin is a naturally occurring substance that has receptors all over the body. It’s be st known function is mood support as Serotonin helps us to feel happy.

Low sunlight exposure can decrease our body’s ability to produce appropriate amounts of Serotonin.

Low Vitamin D:

Vitamin D also has effects throughout the body and may support Serotonin levels and enhance brain function. The two main ways our body gets Vitamin D is through sun exposure to the skin and by taking Vitamin D as a supplement.

What can I do to boost my mood?

Woman lifting dumbbell.

It’s always important to discuss a decrease in mood with your physician and family members. Your physician will help you monitor the severity and progress.

A little support can go a long way!

Reset the circadian rhythm, give the body more light!

  • Use a light box: Light boxes or phototherapy lamps help to mimic outdoor sun light. The box should provide 10,000Lux of light and contain the least amount of UV light as possible

    • Sit at a distance of about 16 to 24 inches from the face

    • Within the first hour of waking up in the morning

    • Starting around 20 to 30 minutes daily, with a max of 60 min after a month

    • With eyes open, but not looking directly at the light

    • Light boxes have decreased in price over the years, you can find a reliable one for less than $80

(Light boxes are not recommended for past or current eye problems such as glaucoma, cataracts or eye damage from diabetes.)

  • Get outside daily: natural light is always best. Spend at least 10 minutes outside during the day, it’s always lighter outside than looking from the inside out

Exercise is medicine for the brain!

  • Find one or more types of exercise that you enjoy and commit to 30-60 min most days during the winter

  • Mix it up, choose to walk with a friend or clear your head by exercising alone

  • Take up a winter only activity like cross-country skiing

Vitamin d written in the sand

Have your Vitamin D blood levels tested.

  • It can be especially helpful to have your Vitamin D levels tested in September and again in February to determine need for supplementation or an increase in the amount you are taking.

Supplementing support: 

There are a number of supplements that help to boost mood, energy and promote a more restful sleep. However, it is important not to boost Serotonin levels too much or to take multiple Serotonin producing supplements or medications at the same time. Talk to your physician prior to starting any supplement to determine any interactions with medications.

  • 5 HTP: helps to make Serotonin and can help to promote a restful sleep

  • SAMe: also helps to make Serotonin

  • Phosphorylated Serine: helps to promote a restful sleep

Plan ahead!

One benefit of seasonally low mood it that it’s predictable.

  • Create a plan that works for you, then implement it every September to prevent a drop in mood through the winter. Talk with your naturopathic physician about a plan that is right for you!