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Why shorter, darker days may leave you feeling SAD

It’s been over a week since we turned back the clocks for Daylight Saving Time. With it came brighter mornings but noticeably earlier evenings. The sun now sets around 5 p.m. which means for many of us, we’re heading home from work in near darkness.

With the adjustment to disappearing daylight may also come unwelcome but predictable mood changes. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself feeling a bit down or depressed right about now.

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a clinically accepted and significant condition that is estimated to affect up to one in five Canadians. It is a type of mild depression that commonly occurs in the fall and continues into the winter months, often coinciding with changes in daylight and weather conditions.

Silhouette of an tired sportsman at sunsetCommon symptoms include: feeling tired, sluggish or fatigued; having low energy levels; irritability and problems getting along with others; changes in appetite and weight gain; problems sleeping and oversleeping; and a general lack of motivation.

In severe cases, SAD can mimic major depression and include feelings of extreme hopelessness and worthlessness, social withdrawal, substance abuse as well as suicidal thoughts. In such cases, seeking medical attention is advised.

The causes of SAD are not entirely known but likely related to the ongoing decrease in daylight hours which then affects and disrupts our biological clock/circadian rhythms. Additionally, there are pronounced changes to serotonin and melatonin levels, which are hormones affecting mood and sleep patterns.

Females, teenagers and younger adults as well as those who live further from the equator (i.e. many Canadians) are considered at increased risk of SAD.

sunset runThere are a number of treatment options which include light therapy, medication and psychotherapy but the most common and perhaps effective treatments for SAD are increased sun exposure and exercise. Fortunately, this is something that runners are usually well versed in.

The best advice for triathletes is to find/make time to run or ride, preferably outdoors. The morning may be the best option as it is lighter and brighter but another option is to squeeze a run in during your lunch or work break. Even a few minutes is better than none at all. Staying active and getting outdoors will do wonders for how you feel and help minimize the effect of SAD, so commit to keep training even as the days get shorter, darker and colder. You’ll be better off for it.