Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is thought to affect some 10-20 percent of the US population. Sometimes called “winter depression,” SAD symptoms include lack of energy and an increased need for sleep, carb cravings and weight gain, irritability, and feeling “blue.” People in cloudy climates experience higher rates of SAD as do people living in higher latitudes further from the equator.
There are different theories of why later dawns and earlier dusks affect us. Some researchers believe that a lack of sunlight affects our hypothalamus gland responsible for our internal biological clock or circadian rhythm regulating hormones, sleep and wakefulness and other bodily processes within a 24 hour cycle. Some believe that the effect of light on neurotransmitters in the brain affects not only body processes but also mood. Anyone who has done shift work or has had jet lag understands the problem of interrupting our sleep/wake patterns and the very intricate system responsible for the way our bodies keep time.
Light therapy, psychotherapy, and medications are available to lessen the effects of SAD. Symptoms that seriously affect the quality of daily life deserve a deeper look and assessment by a physician.
Perhaps this phenomenon of winter blues explains our human response and instinct to decorate with lights during the winter months and to get together with family and friends. We can help ourselves by remembering in the midst of the holidays to do those regular things that help us to stay balanced: get enough sleep, take in the right fuel for our bodies, and set aside a daily time to sit still (meditate) to keep our balance.