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Are You Getting Enough Light This Winter?

By Laurel-Lea Shannon

are you getting enough light this winter

Photo: Gillian Scobie

Many people suffer from seasonal sleep and mood disorders in the winter months. The usual cause of this is lack of light. On a bright summer day, the sunlight measures 100,000 lux (the standard measurement of illumination), but during winter days in Canada or the northern USA, the light drops precipitously to a mere 2,000 lux. To make matters worse, if you spend most of your time hibernating indoors when it’s cold outside, you get only 100 lux per day. For some light-sensitive people, this lack of light affects not only their sleep but their mood—the condition is, appropriately, called SAD or “seasonal affective disorder.”

Why do we need light?

It all comes down to serotonin, melatonin and the pineal gland, a pea-sized melatonin-producing dynamo embedded deep in your brain. The pineal gland consists of pigment cells similar to those found in your eyes and is light-sensitive. If you don’t get enough light, the pineal gland won’t be able to make enough melatonin to insure a good night’s sleep. But there’s another catch. The pineal gland produces melatonin from the serotonin you have in your brain. If you’re low in serotonin and you’re not getting enough light, this could explain problems with winter insomnia and moodiness.

In Canada, all but the heartiest and most optimistic suffer from the “February blahs.” Most people in northern climates can benefit from getting more light in the winter. Here are a few lux-boosting tips.

1) Get Outside: In the late fall and during the winter, walk, skate, ski, snowshoe or hike. No matter what your indoor workout schedule is, get outside for at least 30 minutes a day. Do this early in the day and your melatonin levels will be even higher at night, helping you to sleep better and improving your mood.

2) Become a Snow Bird: Take a sun-drenched vacation south. This isn’t a permanent solution, unless you can spend three months away, but it will temporarily boost your Vitamin D, serotonin and melatonin levels, not to mention giving you a great tan and putting a smile back on your face.

3) Avoid Melatonin’s Enemies: Some substances block the production of melatonin. If you feel low and have trouble sleeping during the winter, reduce the following: caffeine, alcohol (alcohol may relax you and help you get to sleep but it wakes you up in the night), chocolate, Aspirin and Tylenol.

4)  Set Up Full-Spectrum Lights: If you can’t get out in the natural daylight, or doing that still isn’t helping, consider full-spectrum fluorescent lamps. You can get more information about what you need to set these up and how to use them from The Mood Cure by Julia Ross.

Source: The Mood Cure by Julia Ross

1 comment to Are You Getting Enough Light This Winter?

  • gSteinUm

    Full spectrum lights do indeed help out. Also using vit. d and calcium supplements is a good idea, when exposure to natural sunlight is decreased. May even consider upping vit. c , as some vitamins are affected by decreased exposure to sunlight. Human body will produce vitamins d and c with sunlight exposure.

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