How have you fared the recent time change? I get home from work now, walk my dog, and have to tell myself I really shouldn’t go to bed at 6pm! While my mood remains positive, the darkness sure does make me crave sleep.
There is some speculation that Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is real but I know that I am prone to falling into a lethargic, depressed state once the days become shorter.
Ten years ago, I was unable to function between November and March – I would get through my workday only to come home to lie on the couch or just go to bed. I had no social life and was always, always tired. (Of course, I also ate pretty poorly, too, which did not help.) Luckily, I’ve found some great natural ways to fend off most of the problems associated with lack of sunlight or SAD.
Because exposure to sunlight is how our body manufactures vitamin D, it is this nutrient we are most lacking in the dark months of winter. Supplement vitamin D from mid-October through to mid-April, at least, as this vitamin helps make dopamine and serotonin, two neurotransmitters associated with happy thoughts. For healthy adult women between 18 and 70, at least 600 IU per day is necessary. Vitamin D3 is the type of vitamin D produced by your body so choose this.
Omega-3 fatty acids are lacking in most North American diets but this is truly apparent in the darker months. So, up your intake of wild caught salmon, flaxseeds, and walnuts this winter, aiming for 2-3 servings of omega-3 fatty acids each day. If you can’t get enough through food, try a high quality omega-3 supplement as well. Not only will these healthy fats help combat SAD but they’ll also protect your skin against winter dryness.
Turkey is another excellent food to combat SAD and we should be eating this more often than at holiday dinners. Turkey contains tryptophan, an essential amino acid that helps to improve sleep quality. Luckily, it’s easy to find ground turkey or a good sized turkey breast all year round so try incorporating this wonderful whole food into dishes where you might normally use chicken or ground beef. This turkey meatloaf recipe is delicious and so easy to make!
When tryptophan is delivered the brain it helps to manufacture serotonin, which helps keep you happy. Consider supplemental 5-HTP as this helps increase serotonin levels and increase endorphin levels.
Complex carbohydrates will also raise the level of tryptophan in the brain and high-quality protein foods will promote the production of dopamine and norepinephrine to promote mental clarity and alertness.
Two additional botanicals you could consider are St. John’s Wort and Gingko Biloba Extract. Both have been shown clinically to reduce depression symptoms. Before taking either of these, though, talk your medical doctor or nutrition consultant.
Lifestyle and Other Factors:
A few years ago my naturopathic doctor recommended I buy an artificial light source and this has to be one the best investments I have ever made. My Litebook is a small intense full spectrum light that I turn on each morning at work. For 30 minutes a day, the Litebook helps regulate circadian rhythms and stimulate retina cells that control your body’s internal clock. Once a day is usually enough but on especially dark, dreary days, I will often turn the Litebook on again after lunch to boost my energy.
Sleep is another important factor. Consider how much sleep you’re actually getting and make sure you’re clocking in enough hours each night to satisfy your body’s needs (this may be 6 – 9 hours per night, depending on the person). Set yourself up for your best sleep by eliminating screens 2 hours before bed (and don’t have them in your bedroom at all), practicing a soothing and relaxing ritual before bed, and darkening and cooling the room appropriately.
Maintain regular exercise throughout the winter, too, as exercise helps beat the depression brought on by low sunshine levels. Exercise helps to improve mood and improve cardiovascular health and the more you move the more energy you’ll have.
And, perhaps just looking at sunny, outdoor pictures can help beat the winter blues! Try posting a favorite tropical vacation pictures as your desktop background or splurge on a printed, framed photo of a serene, sunny landscape!