Sophie Anabelle Somé
Have you been experiencing difficulties thinking, concentrating, or making decisions? Have you perhaps been oversleeping since winter started? Have you accumulated a loss of interest or pleasure in the activities that you used to enjoy? These are common symptoms of the winter blues, also called seasonal affective disorder (SAD). During wintertime, you might feel like your energy levels are low because you are not getting enough sleep. Overeating is also a common response to the change of season. MacDonald’s chicken nuggets, the A&W Mama Burger, or that 12-inch steak and cheese Subway sandwich just look so mouth-watering.
Basically, winter blues are commonly known as a change in one’s mood when fall kicks in and the winter wind is whistling through the window cracks. Essentially, negative emotions and depressive feelings are amplified during winter when days are shorter and darker. As a college student, you might see very little sunlight throughout the day. This can have a toll on your mental health. Almost certainly, you’ve had that surprising moment when you go outside during winter and the sun is already gone.
Limited exposure to sunlight is believed to be the main cause of SAD because daylight regulates our internal clock. Circadian rhythms, our 24-hour internal cycles, are internal processes that carry important functions in our bodies, such as the sleep-wake cycle. Fundamentally, the brain sends signals to generate alertness that help us stay energetic throughout the day. At night the body initiates the production of melatonin, a hormone related to sleep. According to the Sleep Foundation, “our circadian rhythm aligns our sleep and wakefulness with day and night.” During winter, our bodies’ ideal cycle is disrupted. Consequently, when days are shorter and nights are longer, we produce more melatonin. This overproduction of melatonin incites us to sleep longer and can impair our abilities to carry out our day-to-day tasks. Since the sun sets earlier in the evening, we feel sleepy earlier at night. However, some experts believe that there is not enough evidence to support this claim. In fact, our limited ability to enjoy outdoor activities might influence our mood and result in symptoms related to seasonal affective disorder.
According to the Canadian Psychological Association, approximately 15% of Canadians will report a mild case of SAD in their lifetime. Seasonal affective disorder makes up 10% of all reported cases of depression. Although it is a disorder that most people won’t encounter in their lifetime, limited sunlight exposure during winter has a global impact on nearly everyone’s internal clock. For many students here at the college, attending back-to-back classes literally means only being able to see sunlight through the windows. And let’s not begin to talk about the students who have classes on Dawson’s lowest floors.
When you google solutions to help cope with winter blues or SAD, the main options are light therapy. Essentially, with light therapy, you are scheduling moments of your day where you will expose yourself to a special type of light that can easily be found on Amazon, or you can simply plan to spend more time outdoors. But is it really that simple? While light therapy is a powerful tool that deserves consideration, tips such as maintaining a regular bedtime can help. Easier said than done, but worthwhile! Creating a balanced schedule can help you organize yourself and feel less overwhelmed. Reducing the stress of the semester can significantly help you feel better.
Finally, seasonal affective disorder is an important illness that deserves consideration and can greatly impact your life. This article is in no way trying to diagnose nor impose solutions for SAD, but only to inform you about the disease. If you suspect you may have it, seeking professional advice is highly recommended.