Many of us feel a drop in our mood as the light starts to decrease in the darker autumn nights. For 7% of the UK the effect from the change in light is severe enough to lead to winter depression, commonly known as Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD, and an increased need for sleep. Here are some tips to help boost your mood
Eat mood boosting foods
Make sure you increase foods that are known to help increase your level of Serotonin. Whilst low mood in the autumn is a multi-factoral issue, one of the components is potentially via decreased Serotonin levels Serotonin is the neurotransmitter in the brain which is most commonly linked to mood.
Serotonin levels can be reduced by working at night or in darkness, lack of sleep, poor diet, and stress. Serotonin is produced from the amino acid Tryptophan which is commonly found in foods such as poultry and meat, avocados, bananas, cottage cheese, walnuts, soy protein, tomatoes, sunflower and pumpkin seeds and brown rice, and starchy carbohydrates such as bread, pasta and potatoes.
Make sure you get enough quality sleep
Go to bed at the same time each night before midnight and make sure you get at least 7 hours sleep. This will help increase your serotonin levels back up again.
Have a daily fresh air fix
Try to get outside for at least 1⁄2 hour a day. Low levels of Vitamin D, which is created in the skin by ultraviolet B (UVB) sunlight, has been associated with depression and low mood. Recent research has also linked Vitamin D with Serotonin production in the brain.
Being out in the sun boosts our mood, improves sleep, and promotes vitamin D production,” says James Spencer, associate clinical professor of dermatology at Mt. Sinai School of Medicine in New York. A recent study from Zayed University also found mood change related to vitamin D status. You can also boost Vitamin D by eating oily fish, cod liver oil, tofu, mushrooms, eggs, and even Caviar.
Try some light therapy
If you are feeling especially low consider using a light box. The decrease in light in the darker months affect our levels of Melatonin. Melatonin is produced at night in the absence of sunlight and helps regulate our sleep cycle. For some people the decrease in light in the winter produces high levels of melatonin which leads to sleepiness, fatigue and low energy levels.
As Melatonin is produced using Serotonin the person also ends up having low moods and even depression. The use of a light box in the morning is now well documented as resetting the Melatonin cycle and boosting mood as it also increases Serotonin.
“Physically well, mentally well” is something I really believe in. Exercise is a great way to boost levels of tryptophan (the Serotonin precursor) and naturally lift the mood by producing endorphins. There is a growing body of evidence that Serotonin production and release is increased by exercise, and in particular aerobic exercise such as running and cycling.
Have these techniques worked for you, or do you have your own ways of raising your mood during those long winter months? Let me know in the comments.