Beware the winter blues

Published 26 November 2012
(Photo: John Nyberg)

The crisp autumn sunshine has given way to lashings of rain for many so it's little wonder that the overcast skies and shortening days may put a dampner on our moods too.

In a survey on the emotional impact of reduced daylight, a whopping 79% of Brits said the reduction in daylight over the winter months has a negative effect on their mood, with 17% claiming the impact was significant.

Three quarters of respondents (76%) said the reduction in daylight during the winter has an effect on their sleep patterns.

Seventy-four per cent said it impacted their sense of wellbeing. Over a quarter (28%) said they were feeling less happy than in the summer.

Almost a quarter of those surveyed (23%) said they were feeling more depressed, while around one in three (32%) said they were finding it harder to get motivated with the onslaught of winter.

Just over a third (34%) said they were finding it increasingly difficult to get up in the morning and one in five (22%) admitted to eating more 'comfort food' than this time last month.

The shorter days also appear to have an impact on our leisure time as well, with around a third saying they have spent less time outdoors since the clocks went back.

One in eight (12%) of those surveyed said they had reduced the amount of exercise they were doing since the clocks went back, with 68% saying the lack of daylight over the winter months has a negative impact on their social life.

The effects are not short-term either, with evidence showing that 'winter blues' can last until February.

TV medical expert Dr Rob Hicks suggested the link between daylight and mood was linked to a natural human instinct akin to hiberation.

He said: "These survey results come as no surprise to me because it is well recognised that most people feel down from time to time during winter. Many actually suffer with seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a specific type of depression, thought to be caused by a lack of daylight, which leaves them depressed, and lacking in motivation and energy.

"This lack of daylight is believed to disturb the balance of chemicals in the brain and to upset the body's internal clock. The result is too much melatonin, the hormone that makes us feel tired and ready for sleep, and not enough serotonin, the hormone that helps us feel happy.

"The consequence of this, and the disruption of the internal clock, is feelings of tiredness, lethargy, and low mood."

Dr Hicks says there are things we can do to beat the winter blues.

"Light is believed to help correct the imbalance between melatonin and serotonin, so spending as much time as possible exposed to daylight can help lift our mood.

"This can be achieved by being outdoors or when indoors being close to a window. If indoors, then a room where plenty of daylight is available such as a conservatory is a very good option.

"Exercise is also beneficial as it helps release endorphins, the 'feel good' hormones. So the trick is to keep active, whether outdoors or indoors, and get as much daylight as possible."

Melanie McDonald, Head of Marketing and Communications at Anglian Home Improvements, said the company commissioned the research because of feedback from customers saying that installing a conservatory had made them feel happier in the winter.

"[They] told us they feel happier in the winter after installing a conservatory as they can spend time watching what's going on in the garden and make the most of the available daylight," she said.

"It's encouraging to learn little changes, like making sure you sit near a window or somewhere with as much natural light as possible, can make a big difference to how you feel and cope with winter."

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