There is evidence that some of us lack energy and motivation in the dark winter months. For a few people the winter months may trigger depression, known as Seasonal Affective Disorder. Research by Terman, in 1988, suggests that this is due to the lower light levels in winter. Terman found that 10% of people in New Hampshire (where there are low light levels in winter) had depression compared to  2% in Florida (where there are higher light levels in winter).

Why might lower levels of light affect our mood? It is thought that this may, at least in part, be due to higher levels of the hormone melatonin. This hormone helps us to get to sleep at night as the sun sets. However, in the winter the lower levels of light means that melatonin is released for longer and, for some of us, this makes is feel lethargic and lacking in energy and this can lead to low mood.

So, how to beat the winter blues? Here are three tips based on evidence:

  1. Wrap up warm and get outside for at least 20 minutes at around mid-day.
  2. Exercise has been shown to boost our mood, so it is is particularly important to keep up our exercise regime in the winter.
  3. If possible, try to sit near a window during the day or invest in a light box and use it in the morning.

If you suffer from more severe low mood or depression in the winter, then it would be a good idea to see your GP about psychological therapies for Seasonal Affective Disorder.

Dr Emma Dunmore
Leeds School of Social Sciences

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