With daylight saving time behind us, the sun now sets much earlier, leaving us with less sunlight and more darkness as we creep closer and closer to the start of winter.
This lack of light can affect our mood, how we function, and even our health.
What You Need To Know
- Decreasing sunlight in the winter can affect our moods
- Our levels of serotonin (a hormone associated with levels of depression) can drop this time of year
- Increased darkness may also cause our bodies to overproduce melatonin
- Light therapy can be a useful solution to keep us happier in the darker months
Studies show that without enough sunlight, your serotonin levels will drop. Lower levels of that hormone are associated with a higher risk of major depression with seasonal patterns (better known as SAD), common in some people.
SAD, or seasonal affective disorder, is a form of depression triggered by the changing seasons.
Specific scientific studies on our mood, the weather, and the environment have shown that it's the amount of time between sunrise and sunset that really affects how we act, think, and live.
"The truth of it is that there are multiple factors that are at play when it comes to how the change in weather impacts your mood, so there are chronobiological pieces and then there are psychological pieces," says Dr. Sophie Lazarus, a clinical assistant professor in the department of psychiatry and behavioral health at The Ohio State University.
"We know that sunlight may help regulate the serotonin activity for some people."
While morning people may benefit a bit this time of year due to earlier sunrises, most people aren't up that early to enjoy the benefit of light in the wintertime.
Increased darkness may also trigger another chemical in our bodies, melatonin, to overproduce. This may explain why we are often more sleepy in the winter months when the sun sets earlier in the day.
"This combination also impacts circadian rhythm, which regulates sleep and energy," says Dr. Lazarus.
Earlier sunsets this time of year and into the winter season will also cause us to change our routines. Even in warm winter climates, a sunset time of 5 or 6 p.m. will keep us indoors more, with safety being among the main reasons why.
"Some people's hobbies depend on being outside, and people tend to get less exercise. Us having less light can impact our behavior in ways that can feed back and impact our mood," according to Dr. Lazarus.
Of course, the most obvious choice to avoid all of this would be to move to a climate that doesn't experience as great of a difference in sunrise and sunset times. But for most of us, coping with the loss of light is something we can easily do, with a few helpful tips from Dr. Lazarus.
Even if you live in a place that has more overcast skies in the winter, the best advice would be to layer up and get outside anyway!
"Even though the weather may not be that nice or sunny, it still is important to get outside during the day to get some sunlight. Buy some good winter gear to make sure that you're still getting outside," Dr. Lazarus says.
Not only can spending time outside in the winter vastly improve your mood but maintaining social connections is critical this time of year. Even if it is more difficult by the COVID-19 pandemic, you should still find ways to keep those connections.
Video chats may seem tiring at this point. But, just having a face-to-face video conversation can brighten your day and release chemicals and endorphins that will make you feel positive.
For more severe or chronic cases of depression this time of year, Dr. Lazarus recommends light therapy.
Dr. Lazarus says "lightboxes produce this bright white light, and as far as your brain is concerned, artificial light works just as well as natural sunlight."
Dr. Lazarus also says to talk to your doctor if you're interested in light therapy. They can give recommendations on what exactly you might need to help you make it through the darker winter months a bit more easily.
Like taxes, this change to less light happens once per year. It's easy for our moods, especially when the psychological part is impacted, to give us feelings of depression.
Remembering that it's only temporary can help give us goals and aspirations to look forward to when we do have more sunlight in our daily lives.
The date and time for when our sunset starts getting later again: December 21st at 5:02 a.m.