Following an overly restrictive meal plan or having a condition that interferes with nutrient absorption can lead to nutrient deficiencies, and some oral diabetes drugs may make the problem worse. Diminished wintertime sun exposure can reduce the skin’s production of vitamin D. However, if you’re considering taking vitamins or other nutritional supplements, it’s important to consult your health-care team beforehand because, in certain cases, supplements can be harmful. A blood test may be necessary to evaluate whether you need or would benefit from a particular vitamin or other supplement.
Some experts recommend reducing your consumption of carbohydrate foods — or at least refined carbohydrates. Addressing a general (not diabetes-oriented) audience, SAD authority Dr. Norman Rosenthal has stated that “limiting carbohydrate-rich foods…can reduce [carbohydrate] cravings, and [help] contain your weight.” He explains that some “patients with SAD secrete more insulin in response to a glucose load than nonseasonal controls…light therapy reverses the tendency to oversecrete insulin in response to a glucose load, which may explain why light therapy reduces carbohydrate cravings.” He concludes: “If patients with SAD have exaggerated insulin responses to carbohydrate-rich meals…this could trigger cravings for more carbohydrates and on and on.” If you feel you may benefit from a lower carbohydrate intake, work with your health-care team to devise a diet that works for you.
Inadequate sleep is powerfully destructive; it can sabotage your mood and ability to function. Chronically poor sleep often causes depression.
You may be surprised to learn that adults need an average of eight and a half hours of sleep every night. Compensating for sleeping short on weekdays by sleeping in on weekends won’t ensure a good mood. Skeptical? Try getting eight and a half hours of sleep every night for two weeks. If you don’t feel better, go back to your old ways!
For some people, getting too much sleep can also lead to a poor mood. Although the winter blues may make you feel like sleeping longer than usual, yielding to this temptation can worsen the problem. If feeling groggy makes it hard for you to get up in the morning, try enhancing the natural dawn light in your bedroom by opening the shades or curtains to let in the morning sun — or consider using a dawn simulator.
Chronic sleep problems are very common, affecting about one in six American adults. As noted earlier, getting adequate daytime light exposure, dimming indoor lights before bedtime, and sleeping in a dark bedroom fosters deep, refreshing sleep. Getting more exposure to morning light may be helpful if you have difficulty falling asleep at night. Getting more afternoon or evening light may help if you tend to wake up at 3 AM or so and be unable to get back to sleep. Vigorous exercise — but not too close to bedtime — often helps relieve insomnia.
Winter-blues sufferers may feel tempted at times to take stimulants like caffeine and nicotine for focus and alertness — but when these stimulants interfere with sleep, they can aggravate the very problems they were intended to solve. Exercise offers many of the benefits of stimulants without the risk of disrupting sleep. Similarly, alcohol may provide some temporary relief from a low mood, but in the long run, it can undermine sound sleep and is a depressant that can worsen the winter blues.
It’s easier to make lifestyle changes in the summer or fall, before your energy and motivation have been undermined by the winter blues. But even if the blues have already taken hold, hard work and determination can turn them around — sometimes in just a few days.