From sleep to exercise to diet to mood, fewer daylight hours this time of year can take a significant toll on our bodies and overall health.
As we move deeper into the cold and grey winter months, it’s important to pay attention to how your body is reacting. Are you feeling less energetic? Are you waking up tired? Does your sadness seem to outweigh your happiness? At some point during the winter, most everyone experiences the negative effects of less daylight—some more severe than others. Fortunately, it’s not all doom and gloom(iness).
In a special winter series called “The Darkness Effect,” physicians with Williamson Medical Group and other area practices will offer insight into why our bodies are affected by less sunlight and offer valuable tips to help brighten your day, boost your energy and raise your mood.
Over the course of the series, we will examine how shorter daylight in the winter months affects your diet, exercise habits, sleep, mood and even your children!
You might be surprised to know that there is proven science to back up your struggles with less sunlight. But it doesn’t always manifest itself as seasonal affective disorder. Sometimes it’s just a break in your desire to exercise. We have spoken with several physicians who can hopefully shed a little light on how to not only survive, but thrive during the coming winter months.
Like any medical condition, genetics can be a huge factor in determining how your body responds to less sunlight, according to family medicine physician Kelly Snyder, M.D.
“If adults have issues with darkness, they need to be prepared for their kids to show similar symptoms,” she said.
Less sun leads to more carbs
It’s no coincidence a lot of people tend to gain a few extra pounds during the winter. It’s science.
“One of the things we know about carbs is they work on the ‘pleasure receptor’ in the brain—dopamine,” said Arthur Williams, D.O., family medicine physician with Williamson Medical Group. “If you hate winter, we try to make ourselves feel better by stimulating the dopamine receptor. You don’t want carrots and chicken breasts because they don’t do anything to your brain. It’s just nutrition. What you crave are carbs.”
He recommends avoiding simple sugars such as cookies, candy and cakes because the inevitable sugar crash will make your mood even worse. Instead, incorporate more vegetables, fruits, whole grains and protein into your diet to give your body the vitamins and sustained energy it needs to give your mood a much-needed lift.
Schedule sunshine into your day
Depending on your work schedule, you could all day without being exposed to sunlight. If this applies to you, Snyder recommends carving 20 minutes into your schedule every day to go outside and absorb that sweet vitamin D—even when it’s cold outside.
“You can’t control the weather, but you can help to control your mood by getting out in the sun,” Snyder said.
Let there be light!
Tips for brightening your day:
- Open your curtains and blinds immediately after waking up. Welcoming the sunshine into your room will help you start your day feeling more awake and energized.
- Open your blinds in your office to allow as much natural light as possible.
- Light boxes are a great alternative for natural sunlight for those who work 12-hour shifts or unable to get outside during the day or take a break near an open window. Twenty minutes a day in front of the light is all you need. Before you purchase a light box, talk to your primary care physician to ensure you buy one that’s most suitable for you.
Look for more information in our next installment about why your food cravings change during the winter and how to maintain a healthy diet despite lack of summer fruits and veggies.
Find comfort this winter with more veggies and lean meats
While this traditional meal may bring an instant feeling of warmth and happiness, health experts say it’s more important this time of year to eat fewer carbs and sweets and more vegetables, fruits and proteins. Click here to read more.
How to stay active during winter months
When it’s dark at 5 a.m. and dark at 5 p.m. and freezing cold outside, finding time to exercise – let alone the desire to actually do it — can seem nearly impossible. If this sounds like you, it’s important to know two things: You are not alone and your feelings have some scientific backing. Click here to read more.
Lack of sunlight due to shorter winter days affects children just like adults
Local practitioners explain how less daylight affects children in many of the same ways adults feel it. Click here to read more.
How to maintain quality sleep patterns during winter
Less sunlight, combined with reduced physical activity and an overindulgence of carbs thanks to the time change and shorter days during winter can significantly impact your sleep cycle. Click here to read more.
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