Returning winter sun may lighten dreary moods

Friday, January 14, 2005

Last Sunday's sunshine was the first significant amount the region has seen since Jan. 1. So far, 2005 has been a year of gray skies filled with clouds and raindrops.

According to National Weather Service meteorologist Ryan Presley, only 9 percent of the total possible amount of sun has peeked through so far this month.

In the past week, Presley said, Southeast Missouri has seen less than 400 minutes of sun, 100 minutes short of a full day of sun at this time of year.

There is good news. Today's forecast promises sunshine. However, the temperature will reach only a high of 34 degrees in the afternoon and drop into the teens this evening.

But one day of sunshine may not undo weeks of cloudy "blues," the cause of seasonal affective disorder.

The symptoms are similar to those of depression, says Judy Johnson, clinical director at the Community Counseling Center. Sufferers, typically women, become sad, lethargic, lose interest in things and generally feel down, she said.

Diana Harold, a licensed clinical social worker with Dr. Ken Callis, PhD, & Associates, said the disorder is caused by an increase of melatonin in the brain. The hormone is related to sleep and is produced more in the dark winter months.

"The depression happens during January and February and subsides in the summer months," Harold said.

Although the sun has been absent, the clouds have helped to keep the daily temperature range of highs and lows from drastically changing until now.

Meteorologist Presley credits a southwesterly flow with bringing in warmer than normal temperatures the past couple of days and the clouds with trapping that air.

According to the National Weather Service, normal temperatures during January can vary 20 degrees from the morning lows to the afternoon highs, but this year there has been an average variation of only 5 degrees.

The lack of sunshine is good for tanning salons.

Marcia Schlueter, owner of Endless Summer Tan in Cape Girardeau, says customers come to tanning salons in search of the ultraviolet rays they are lacking due to the vanishing sun.

"The colder and more damp it is, the more people we get," said Schlueter.

She said tanning is good because it lifts the spirit.

"People come in and say 'I need to tan. I need to feel better,'" Schlueter said.

The solutions Johnson and Harold endorse to combat the disorder are to turn on more lights in a room or go outside for awhile.

cpierce@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 127

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