Letting some light in

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Dec. 16, 2004

Dear Leslie,

Eddie Cochran and the Who complained vocally about the lack of a cure for the summertime blues. If you ask me, the wintertime blues are much more of a problem and harder on the noggin.

Doctors say most people get the wintertime blues to some degree.

Getting out of bed these chilly and dark winter mornings is so difficult that the remote possibility I could be suffering from seasonal affective disorder almost seems comforting. At least SAD would explain the morning crankiness. Pity people who have wake up in the dark. I'm having trouble with 8 a.m.

When I lived in upstate New York, a sense of dread began setting in about end of August. In that latitude, the first signs of the frigid winter and short, dark days to come began appearing around Labor Day. People who grew up there probably didn't notice that the strength of the sunlight was waning. They couldn't wait to drill holes for ice fishing anyway.

I noticed. Summers were like a butterfly that alights on your shoulder and has left before you knew it was there. Oh, beautiful, you say watching it float away. The rest of the year the world seemed frozen and dark, almost medieval. Cue the music from "Carmina Burana."

Southeast Missouri is not so bad. In fact, our winters often are mild. But the nights are still long and dark.

At this time of year, many people have SAD symptoms: Excessive eating and sleeping, weight gain, moodiness, a craving for sugar or starchy foods. It's called the holidays.

The prescription for SAD is huge amounts of light, especially early in the morning. Some people have special SAD lights they bathe themselves in.

Most living things crave light. Flowers follow the light. Our beagle, Alvie, always finds a spot of light on the floor to lie in. Anyone for Florida at this time of year?

One possible cause of SAD is that levels of the hormone melatonin go up in the dark. Melatonin may increase depression symptoms.

Another possible cause is that levels of the mood-regulating hormone seratonin naturally decrease in the winter. All this is too scientific for me. It's enough to know that certain foods (simple carbohydrates) make the blues worse and others (a turkey sandwich on whole wheat) make them better. To know that exercise helps, even if you don't feel like doing it.

In addressing the problem of runners not wanting to get out of bed on dark mornings to lace on their shoes, Runner's World magazine reassures that running also might help cure the problem. It might help readjust your circadian rhythm, which is disturbed by the shorter days and longer nights of winter.

My circadian rhythm has been missing the beat for a long time. I stay up late. DC goes to bed early. She awakens about 3 every morning, just as my REM sleep is kicking in. She turns on the TV. God knows what the QVC and the home fix-up channels have done to my psyche.

DC doesn't take my lamentations very seriously. The cures for light deprivation at this time of year are everywhere around you, she says, lights that signify the many reasons to be joyful.

Christmas lights.

Love, Sam

Sam Blackwell is managing editor of the Southeast Missourian.

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