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Daylight (or the lack thereof)

Published in General, For the Health of It Author: Troy Payne, MD, FAASM

Had the winter blues lately? Although we had a warm and beautiful autumn the days have been getting shorter since June 20. In Central Minnesota, we get over 15½ hours of sunlight per day in mid to late June. The sun sets after 9:30 pm. People are out mowing their lawns, riding bicycles and pushing baby strollers down neighborhood streets after suppertime.

The shortest day of the year is fast approaching on Dec. 21. We will only get about 8 hours and 40 minutes of sunlight that day. It is pitch black by 5 p.m. Many people who work indoors get to work in the dark in the morning and go home in the dark in the late afternoon.

The lack of sunlight does affect some people more than others. Certain people feel more moody, depressed or have a lesser amount of energy to get through the day. The lack of sunlight in the evening causes one's melatonin level to rise much earlier. There is a lot more yawning at 7 p.m. this time of year as compared to June.

Some people have a more extreme case of the “Winter Blues” and have Seasonal Affective Disorder. If you tend to have more mood issues each fall this might be a reason.

Interestingly, using a bright light box can sometimes help. Especially if your indoor environment is dark having a light box nearby can make your brain feel the daylight is longer. Light boxes can be “full spectrum” white light. Often a light box with 7,500-10,000 lumens can help you “wake up.” If the white light seems glaring some people use a “blue light box.” One does not sit and stare at the light. The light is usually in the same room where you are located off to the side of where you are sitting or standing. They can be purchased through local stores or online at stores like Amazon. If you have had issues with your eyes such as cataracts you should talk to your eye doctor first to see if you can use one of these lights.

Laptop and computer screens are usually positioned pretty close to ones face and also can keep people more awake. Using these too close to bedtime can cause insomnia so avoid that.

The good news is that although winter is just starting the days start getting longer on Dec. 22!

Have a great winter and sleep well.