Deepak Chopra, MD - Weekly Health Tip: The Winter Blues
Have you had enough of winter? Are you ready for the golden days of spring and summer? The shorter days from December to March can bring the curtain down on our moods and well-being. Some people experience a distinct form of depression in winter, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). The disorder is rooted in the interplay between our natural circadian rhythms, the brain chemical melatonin, and the warmth and light of the sun. Melatonin is secreted by the brain's pineal gland, highlighted above in red. The absence of sunlight triggers melatonin production, so most melatonin is naturally produced at night when we are sleeping. When someone is in darkness for longer than usual, it can result in an overproduction of melatonin, which can lead to symptoms of depression. People affected by SAD want to shut down, and spend far more time sleeping. They crave sweet and starchy foods, so many gain weight during the winter. What else is affected by sunlight and warmth? Our circadian rhythms, which control our sleep-wake cycle among other daily cycles. In sleep studies, the moods of many subjects seem to follow the circadian clock, being at the lowest most depressed level when the body's temperature is lowest, and improving as temperature increases. For most SAD sufferers, the return of sunlight and warmer temperatures brings the return of energy and a positive outlook on life.
Even those with no history of depression will benefit from embracing the sunlight whenever it appears in the winter. Anyone who spends the daylight hours working inside will have to make a special effort, but exposure to bright light will help keep your circadian rhythms and melatonin cycle in balance. Winter may be a good time to shape up your sleep habits, too. The temptation to nap during the day when it's too cold to do anything else can be strong, but sticking to a regular schedule of sleeping at night and being active during the day will also help keep your moods on an even keel. And keep in mind that if you do get the blues, it is a temporary thing. Of course, if you find it impossible to shake feelings of sadness and depression, be sure to describe your situation to a trusted medical professional, in case you need additional help. But for most people, our outlook improves as the days grow longer. That other natural cycle, our planet's journey around the sun, always brings us back to brighter days, and brighter feelings.
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