It’s that time of year again. Next weekend we will once again have to reset our clocks and fall back one hour (for those areas of the US that participate in daylight savings time), and daylight saving time will come to an end. And although we get an extra hour of sleep, we will have to deal with the days getting dark an hour earlier.
Along with the time change come some changes that can have a direct impact on your health.
Decrease in vitamin D levels
It is natural, during the months when darkness falls earlier in the day, for vitamin D levels to drop. We get a significant amount of vitamin D from exposure to sunshine. During the fall and winter months, we also get less vitamin D from the sunshine that we are exposed to because the sun is farther away from the earth. Dropping vitamin D levels can lead to mild to moderate deficiency. And that can lead to symptoms and illness.
Mild deficiency may not come with any symptoms, but as the deficiency progresses, symptoms will emerge. Some of the symptoms of vitamin D deficiency include muscle weakness, bone pain, respiratory problems, depression, fatigue, hypertension, reduced endurance, crankiness and chronic infections.
Lowered immune system
Have you ever wondered why fall and winter are peak times for colds and flu? The cells of the immune system contain vitamin D receptor which help to flip the switch and activate to help the body protect itself against foreign viral and bacterial invaders. But without adequate vitamin D levels, the immune system is not going to have the tools it needs to function optimally, and your immune system will not be strong enough to fight colds and flu. This is why there is an increase in “outbreaks” of cold and flu throughout the US every year in the fall when it begins to get dark earlier.
Feeling depressed or moody
There is a very strong connection between sun exposure, vitamin D levels and mental health. When it gets dark earlier in the day and vitamin D levels drop, many people find themselves feeling more depressed, moody or anxious. This may be seasonal affective disorder (SAD). People with SAD may experience depression, fatigue and hopelessness each year beginning in the fall and lasting through the winter months. They may also withdraw socially.
What can you do?
There are a few things that you can do to protect yourself against, or help reverse some of these health complications caused by the end of daylight savings.
Vitamin D3 supplements have been shown to help many who struggle with seasonal affective disorder. 2000 IU daily is a good starting point and you can always titrate up to amounts larger than that if 2000 IU isn’t enough to help reduce symptoms. I’ve struggled with SAD since I was young, and I require larger amounts than that. Do not use vitamin D2. Vitamin D3 is the form of vitamin D that is made by the sun. That form is more effective and more beneficial to the body.
To keep your immune system boosted, think about taking herbs like echinacea or elderberry each day. These herbs are powerful natural anti-virals and anti-microbials. This means that they can help to kill colds and flu bacteria before it makes you sick. If you already feels something coming on, taking one or both of these can reduce the duration of your cold or flu…and can reduce the severity of the symptoms you do have!
During daylight hours, spend some time in the sun! Bright, natural sunlight prompts the release of serotonin in the brain, so if it’s possible to get outside in the sunshine, then do that as much as you can! You won’t be able to get as much vitamin D because the sun is farther away from the earth during these months, but you can gain some benefit from being in the sunshine for awhile!
Do you have a job or something else that keeps you indoors more often during the fall and winter months? Then you can get bright light exposure through use of a full spectrum light therapy energy lamp. These devices are simple to use. You turn the device on, and allow it to shine on your face. Just don’t look directly into the lamps because it can harm your eyes to do that! 30 minutes of light therapy each day can help to reduce or resolve symptoms of SAD.
These are a few things that you can do to help you through the time change and the subsequent health challenges that come with the end of daylight saving time. Being prepared can help you make a smooth transition and keep you healthy too!