Winter, how does it affect us?
A lot of us hate winter, the days get colder, longer, and your love grows sour in the winter.
When everything disappears under a thick blanket of ice, that’s when us Melbournians head inside, and look for ways to generate heat.
It turns out that your body hates the dark, barren and brutal winter just as much as you do. It’s not only the cold that’s rough on our bodies, it is the lack of sunlight too.
All living things be it human or animal have a circadian rhythm that changes with light. Sunlight regulates most things on earth; from sleep cycles to hibernation periods for animals. Because the earth is titled on an axial angle of 23.5 degrees, it means that some parts of the world get exposure to slightly more sunlight throughout the year compared to the rest. The amount of sunlight that extends to you differs and changes during the year, thus causing a delay in circadian rhythms and your sleeping patterns.
Winters affects on the human body
The perpetual darkness in winter comes along with mental and physical side effects to the body that you may be unaware of.
The grey skies and landscapes that are rocked by horrible storms one season, turn to colour in the next, can have profound changes on your body. Once temperatures drop to single figures, not only does it become cold, the amount of sunlight disappears as well.
Winter causes an escalation of reported illnesses, such as the common cold, and it is connected to seasonal affective disorder, or more commonly known as ‘SAD’. A condition known to bring about changes in mood because of changes in climate.
How do you know if you have SAD?
The criteria and the common symptoms for individuals identified with SAD, include;
- Dramatic changes in energy levels
- Sleeping difficulties
- Feelings of depression
- Tiredness and low energy levels
- Decreased sense of motivation, resulting in feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness, causing individuals to lose interest in past activities that were previously loved
- Trouble concentrating
- Anxiety and nervousness
- Adjustments in appetite and weight
How do grey skies activate SAD?
Did you ever wonder why you feel much more down during the winter time?
Well, this lack of sunlight can actually change your mood, as low levels of sunlight exert a decline in vitamin D. The fact is, vitamin D is absorbed by the body through sunlight, however it can be obtained in small volumes through your diet. Vitamin D plays a vital role in mental health. Vitamin D deficiency is responsible for the development of SAD. Individuals that have low vitamin D levels, due to lack of sunlight are ten times more likely to be depressed, For optimal mental health, the ideal levels of vitamin D are between 40 and 70 ng/ml, that are acquired through sunlight and diet.
The lack of sunlight exposure during the winter season, also effects the hormone, serotonin. Serotonin is released in response to sunlight, a chemical neurotransmitter in the pathway that is correlated to the regulation of mood and energy. With diminished sunlight exposure, serotonin levels in the body decrease. The disruption of serotonin levels not only effects mood but also increases stress and anxiety. Hence why, when serotonin levels are depleted in winter, feelings of anxiety, depression and nervousness surface.
The winter season is uncomfortable, a lot of us are vulnerable to the effects of cold weather. Winter plays a role as the lack of sunlight increases cholesterol levels, because more time is spent indoors eating comfort food, and we get exposed to less vitamin D as a result. With a deficiency in vitamin D levels comes an increase in low-density lipoproteins (LDL) levels, more commonly known as the ‘bad’ cholesterol which puts your heart at risk. Cholesterol levels vary depending on the season, which was investigated at the American College of Cardiology. LDL levels are significantly higher in the winter season, there’s a 3.5% and a 1.7% increase in men and women, respectively.
The human body changes during the glacial season, so how do we fix this problem? We escape the Melbourne winter season and fly away to Europe. Or we increase our physical activity, ensuring you get some sort of sunlight every day, preferably in the morning as the sun is rising, and maintaining a healthy diet by eating more vegetables, whole grains, fruits and nuts to maintain ideal vitamin D levels.