t Beat the winter blues Combatting SAD - Ethical Hedonist

Beat the winter blues Combatting SAD

November 24, 2014 in Features

 Beat the winter blues Combatting SAD

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Do you find it difficult to leave the comfort and haven of your cosy, cocooning bed as autumn gives way to winter and the shortest, darkest days of the year?

Due to this shortage of daylight, our moods can drop, and we can feel low and lacking in energy; This is commonly known as SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder). The exact cause of SAD isn’t fully understood, but given it’s seasonality, it is most probably linked to reduced exposure to sunlight during the shorter days of the year. It is extremely rare to find people with SAD living near the equator where daylight hours are long and bright all year round. In Northern Europe where there is a reduction in light in the winter it is estimated that one in ten people experience some symptoms of SAD such as depression and tiredness. Researchers also believe there may be genetic factors, as seasonal affective disorder has been observed to run in families

Primordial instincts

The mechanisms of SAD seem to be involved with sensitivity to reduction in light. When light hits the eye messages are passed to the hypothalamus (the part of the brain which controls sleep, appetite, mood and activity) to help you wake up and start your day. If there is not enough light these functions would slow down and gradually stop. Some people are a lot more sensitive to the reduction of light and much more likely to develop SAD. Two potential hormonal factors are a reduction in serotonin, which regulates our moods, and abnormally high production of Melatonin. Melatonin is the hormone which is produced in the pineal gland, as a response to a reduction in sun-light, and which helps us go to sleep. A rise in melatonin production is high in hibernating animals, which has helped develop an argument that SAD in humans could be a remnant of our ancestors need to ‘hibernate’ in the autumn in response to reduced food availability. In this sense a lower emotional mood could have led to reduced activity and a reduced need for calories.


SAD can often be treated successfully by light therapy. This involves sitting in front of or beneath a light box that produces a very bright light. Light boxes come in a variety of designs, including desk lamps and wall-mounted fixtures. It’s important to speak to your GP and read the manufacturer’s instructions before using a light box to treat SAD. Light boxes are at least ten times the intensity of household lights, and come in a variety of strengths and sizes – for SAD, a strength of at least 2,500 lux tends to be recommended. Sufferers use light boxes in different ways. Many people use them once a day, with the average time spent in front of the box is one or two hours a day during darker months and the maximum is about four hours. Some light boxes are much brighter and can cut treatment time down to half an hour. You can use your lights at any time of day, although it’s best not to use it before you go to bed, as the effect of the light may make it hard to sleep.

Dave Gibson

Dave has been practising as a Naturopath and Osteopath for over 11 years in London NW3 and has become Warren Evans’ resident Sleep expert. He has worked on the BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing as their osteopath and provides naturopathic advice across a wide range of conditions to promote good sleep patterns and quality sleep. He has a diploma in Naturopathy and a BSC (1st Class Hons) in Osteopathy (during which he came top of his class 4 years out of 4 which has only been done one other time in 100 years…!) Practitioner Name: Dave Gibson Holistic Therapy: Naturopathy & Osteopathy Quals & Experience: BSC (1st Class Hons) in Osteopathy and a national diploma in Naturopathy with over 11 years practising in London. Warren Evans’ trusted Sleep Advisor Find Dave: Dave runs osteopathy and naturopathy clinics in NW3 and has a blog dedicated to sleep tips.


It’s important not to forget the huge role of exercise in the fight against depression. There is evidence that combining exercise and light therapy is a particularly good form of self help for SAD. Talking therapies including counselling, psychotherapy or cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT), can also be useful in helping one to cope with SAD symptoms. Anti-depressants are also used by the GP to treat SAD. Generally, the ones that tend to be used are those which influence Serotonin. Apart from being a major neurotransmitter, concentrations of serotonin drop to their lowest levels during the winter and rise to their highest levels in summer and fall.   Silentnight’s resident sleep expert, Dr Nerina Ramlakhan, comments; “Winter has a significant impact on our sleep patterns. The season brings with it a dramatic reduction in light which causes a depletion in Vitamin D levels, which can effect both our energy levels and mood. During winter our bodies also produce too much of the hormone, melatonin, which can make us sleepy and groggy.”     Using the combined expert knowledge of Warren Evans resident sleep adviser Dave Gibson and Silent Night’s Dr Nerina, we have complied a list of top tips to breeze through winter this year.

Top Tips for Beating Sad

  1. Make the most of the sunshine and increase your Vitamin D levels by getting out into nature. Fresh air is a quick energiser, try doing something as simple as getting outside and breathing deeply for a few minutes.


  1. Keep active – this helps to increase your energy levels and will stop you feeling sluggish. Why not mix it up by starting a new exercise routine.


  1. Avoid oversleeping – the amount of sleep needed will vary from individual to individual. Although you should make sure you get enough sleep during the darker evenings, avoid oversleeping, is this is actually the source of fatigue.


  1. Eat and drink healthily – although you don’t often feel like it during the colder months, a balanced diet can really help to increase your energy levels, as well strengthening your immune system against colds and flu. Look at swapping summer salads for hearty soups.


  1. Hydrotherapy – try a 30 second blast of cold water at the end of your shower for instant energy and a boost to your circulation.


  1. Plan your next summer break – planning a getaway will give you something to look forward to it and help lift your mood, easing the transition from summer to winter.


  1. Light therapy – This involves sitting in front of or beneath a light box that produces a very bright light, recreating light conditions in summer.

Make it your goal to incorporate at least three of these tips into your weekly routine to notice a genuine improvement in your sleeping habits and mood.   For further sleep tips or sleep related advice, please visit:   https://www.warrenevans.com/   www.silentnight.co.uk/sleepmatters   http://thesleepsite.co.uk


about the author

Alison Jane Reid

Alison Jane Reid - Journalist, Editor & Emerald Princess of Slow, Sustainable Luxury Living - 18 year track record interviewing real icons for: The Times, The Lady, You, The Mirror and Country Life. Now leading her alluring fairtrade, emerald revolution - Don’t Miss Out - Have you joined The Ethical Hedonist set?

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