This is the time of year I have an uncontrollable urge to hibernate. To sleep in more and take more naps. The long nights probably have something to do with that. You may not have as much energy in January as you did back in July, and experts say that's normal.

Like so many others, I miss the daylight and sunlight even more than I miss the warm fronts. It almost seems like the sun sets shortly after lunchtime these days but consider this, since the Winter Solstice on December 21 Duluth-Superior has picked up an additional 15 minutes of daylight! And experience shows that some of the Northland's coldest days tend to be sunny, the result of dry, Canadian air flooding south of the border.

Credit: Paul Douglas
Credit: Paul Douglas

The dark days of winter are a nuisance for most of us, but for some a lack of sunlight can result in "Seasonal Affective Disorder" or SAD for short. A lack of sunlight can trigger a host of medical challenges, including depression, anxiety and weight-gain. Here is a more thorough list of possible symptoms, courtesy of The Mayo Clinic:

Signs and symptoms of SAD may include:

  • Feeling listless, sad or down most of the day, nearly every day.
  • Losing interest in activities you once enjoyed.
  • Having low energy and feeling sluggish.
  • Having problems with sleeping too much.
  • Experiencing carbohydrate cravings, overeating and weight gain.
  • Having difficulty concentrating.
  • Feeling hopeless, worthless or guilty.
  • Having thoughts of not wanting to live.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, SAD is diagnosed four times more often in women than men. How can less daylight and sunlight impact you physically and mentally? Scientists believe more darkness in the winter can interfere with your body's internal clock and lower serotonin, a brain chemical that affects our moods - as well as impact melatonin, a hormone that influences sleep patterns and moods. Low levels of Vitamin D in your diet can be a contributing factor. People at northern latitudes (with less winter sunlight) are at greatest risk. There may be a genetic link too: if one family member has symptoms of SAD, others within the family may exhibit similar symptoms. People who suffer from depression or bipolar disorder may be at greater risk, as well.

There are things you can do to find relief from symptoms. First, if you suspect you suffer from SAD, see your doctor. You may find significant relief from various medications, psychotherapy and even light therapy. Spending an hour or two in front of full-spectrum light boxes that mimic the sun have lifted many people out of a deep dark funk.

In the words of Mayo Clinic: "It's normal to have some days when you feel down. But if you feel down for days at a time and you can't get motivated to do activities you normally enjoy, see your health care provider. This is especially important if your sleep patterns and appetite have changed, you turn to alcohol for comfort or relaxation, or you feel hopeless or think about suicide."

attachment-wonderland2 lake Jan 23

You don't have to be miserable. Step one is determining if you are being impacted by SAD. Help is available. Symptoms recede as the sun rises higher in the sky and daylight increases, but you may find more immediate relief by talking to an expert. Here is a great link with a list of resources and hotlines to get you help now.

In the meantime, spring is coming - and sooner than you think. Brighter days ahead!

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