It seems like every year, I forget how short the daylight becomes at this time of year.
For some people, reduced daylight has relatively mild effects, while others experience significant seasonal depression (Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD). SAD is usually accompanied by increased sleep, increased appetite, and cravings for carbohydrates - does this sound familiar? While SAD isn’t completely understood, we do know that shorter days impact our circadian rhythms and can lead to vitamin D deficiency. It’s also possible that the change in light exposure alters the levels of chemicals in our brains directly.
Given the clear ties with circadian rhythms and vitamin D, there are some simple steps we can all take to support our bodies and minds through the winter. One of the most effective supports is light therapy, which supplies full-spectrum light as a substitute for sunlight. When used properly and consistently, it has been shown to have significant impacts on depression (both seasonal and non-seasonal). In my own life, I also use other strategies that help support a regular circadian rhythm, like eating a solid breakfast and getting up at a similar time every day. Vitamin D supplementation is often required year round at our northern latitude, but everyone is different and it’s important to get your levels tested if you’ve been taking vitamin D for more than a few months to ensure that you’re taking enough, and not too much.
This year, we have a new layer of challenges, with added anxiety all around us, and a reduced ability to socialize in the way we used to. While technology enables us to connect in new ways, it's not quite the same in-person interactions. If you are finding this particularly challenging, I encourage you to contact a counsellor to discuss strategies that may help.
If you’re someone who struggles through the winter months, now is the time to be proactive and seek support to create a plan that will keep you feeling more positive and energetic until the days become longer again.
If you are interested in light therapy, the Mayo clinic has a great summary, and specifically outlines important features of effective light therapy:
"Intensity. The intensity of the light box is recorded in lux, which is a measure of the amount of light you receive. For SAD, the typical recommendation is to use a 10,000-lux light box at a distance of about 16 to 24 inches (41 to 61 centimeters) from your face.
Duration. With a 10,000-lux light box, light therapy typically involves daily sessions of about 20 to 30 minutes. But a lower-intensity light box, such as 2,500 lux, may require longer sessions. Check the manufacturer's guidelines and follow your doctor's instructions. He or she may suggest you start with shorter sessions and gradually increase the time.
Timing. For most people, light therapy is most effective when it's done early in the morning, after you first wake up. Your doctor can help you determine the light therapy schedule that works best."
Here are a couple helpful resources regarding S.A.D.:
Seasonal Affective Disorder: National Institute of Mental Health
Seasonal Affective Disorder: Canadian Mental Health Association
This information is for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for a visit with a naturopathic doctor. Always talk to your naturopathic doctor prior to starting light therapy or any supplements.