The sun could be affecting your mental health


Sarah Bethel

A picture of the pier at Holland State Park during the winter.

With the numbingly cold weather approaching and the hours of nighttime growing, I have found myself outlining a multitude of different reasons to resent the winter months. 

As an individual, I have always blamed my especially potent dreariness, which comes around with the cold, on unreasonably freezing weather and threatening, icy morning drives. As apparent and clear as this answer felt, my curiosity began to grow once I learned that many individuals experience a bit more weariness during the winter and never know exactly what to hold accountable.  

Well, for a large variety of reasons, reduced sunlight is the most colossal culprit. 

In the summertime, there is an average of 15 hours of sunlight each day; whereas, in the winter, this number decreases to 12. This three-hour difference may not seem monumental, but combined with more common and vast cloud cover, this can be fairly devastating to one’s well-being. 

One reason that sunlight is so important is that it helps to create vitamin D within the body. Vitamin D directly contributes to keeping energy levels up along with supplying a large number of other benefits—these include supporting one’s immune system and enhancing overall mood. Vitamin D is an important vitamin, and as the hours of available sunlight become less and less, it becomes more and more difficult for the body to produce.

Exposure to sunlight also has a large effect on serotonin regulation. Serotonin is a mood-stabilizing chemical that has a huge effect on your happiness and general well-being; when sunlight is harder to gain access to, these levels of serotonin decrease, which makes the task of stabilizing your mood much more difficult for the brain and body to manage. 

Unfortunately, while the serotonin in the brain decreases, the melatonin in the body increases. Melatonin is a natural hormone that is produced in response to a lack of light. Because the winter has longer periods of darkness, the body produces more melatonin; this throws off the circadian rhythm, which is essentially an internal clock that the body creates to make individuals feel tired at night and awake during the day.

When this internal rhythm gets thrown off and melatonin levels are higher, the chances of feeling enhanced levels of exhaustion throughout the day clearly rise. This intense combination of lowered serotonin with heightened melatonin can be the culprit of a lack of motivation and drowsiness. 

For all these reasons, it can be difficult to feel excited about the coolness coming up ahead. What’s important to remember is that there are many ways to combat these adversities that winter brings.

What’s important to remember is that there are many ways to combat these adversities that the winter brings.

First, it is very important to assist the body as much as possible in exposing yourself to sunlight. Making an effort to head outside during the hours where the sun is at its strongest is highly recommended. This time frame is normally from about ten a.m. to four p.m. 

Another way to help one’s body and mental state is by assisting the circadian rhythms. As exhausting as it can be to hear this message, it is vitally important to sleep and let the body use all of the melatonin it is producing. Whether naps have a part to play or a stronger effort is made to head to sleep at a reasonable hour, the body requires some extra help in the winter to make mornings more bearable. 

Acknowledging the cards being played against an individual’s mental health and well-being is also crucial. Accepting that because of these natural afflictions, there might be some more intense days ahead. It’s also important to hold onto all the moments that make this season endurable. 

Overall, it is important to remain patient both with yourself and others, especially as the sun alters its schedule. Acknowledging that changing emotions are completely valid and backed up by science is crucial, but remembering that you are not helpless in this climate is just as important.