Tuesday 29 October 2019

What your doctor really thinks about the clocks going back

It’s that time of the year again. The clocks have gone back, and we are officially back in winter - RIP daylight! Many of us will have relished that much-needed extra hour of sleep, but as blissful as that was, the shorter and darker days aren’t exactly great news. 

* Guest post

London and Birmingham private GP Dr Preethi Daniel, Deputy Medical Director at London Doctors Clinic, warns that as the time shifts and the darker, longer and colder nights roll in, some people may find that having less daylight has a negative impact on their health and mental wellbeing.  

How do darker nights affect your health and mental wellbeing?

Reduced sunlight limits your intake of Vitamin D, which affects both your physical and mental health. This is because a lack of vitamin D can impair your immune system, making you more susceptible to getting ill during these months; which is most likely why everyone around you is suddenly sniffling and coughing!
The most common symptoms of vitamin D deficiency are fatigue, low mood and general aches and pains. This can affect your daily life and could be the reason you are lacking motivation, which contributes to decreased productivity. However, some symptoms are not always visible such as, osteomalacia which causes thin and soft bones.
Mood can also be substantially affected as a result of the gloomy winter evenings and dark days. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) which is more commonly known as the winter blues is one of many conditions that can occur when the clocks go back.

What is SAD and what are the symptoms?

SAD is a type of depression triggered by the reduction of sunlight resulting in a constant low mood throughout the winter months. While it is normal to experience a lower mood in the winter, SAD tends to be overwhelming and these feelings may impair your day to day life. If you find yourself suffering from the following symptoms, particularly in the winter months, it may be an indication of SAD:

  • Low mood
  • Lack of concentration
  • Poor sleep
  • Poor appetite
  • Low energy
  • Lack of pleasure in activities you generally would
  • Craving for carbs?

Can you treat SAD?

While there is no ‘cure’ for SAD, there are various things you can do to manage its symptoms. The key is to increase the amount of serotonin in the brain to uplift your mood. This can include changes to your lifestyle such as diet, exercise and taking supplements. 


Maintaining a healthy diet can significantly help reduce your carb cravings and, in turn, reduce sluggishness. While it can be tempting to rely on caffeine and sugar when feeling low on energy, it is important to limit these as they only help in the short-term. Instead, try to eat foods like leafy greens which are rich in folic acid - there is some evidence that it is used to make serotonin (the happy hormone). If you find yourself feeling stressed, eat some berries, they are said to prevent us from releasing cortisol which is responsible for stress. If you do want to indulge, maybe make the swap to dark chocolate, it is just as tasty and can significantly elevate your mood due to containing antioxidants and polyphenols.  


Regular exercise is important for releasing those happy hormones. It might be difficult to find the motivation to get up and work out with the cold weather, but exercising will actually help you feel more energised beating sluggishness. Don’t worry that doesn’t mean a full-blown workout every day, but even if you start incorporating small changes such as a brisk walk at lunch during work it can really help increase motivation. 
Open those curtains - natural light is needed to reset our circadian clock. However, it can be hard to get the dose of light you need on a cloudy day. Light therapy is an effective treatment for SAD. Special lightboxes are available and sitting in front of it for 30 minutes a day may help to boost your mood. There are also devices available that can mimic natural sunlight which can trick our bodies into feeling good and energetic before a busy day.
Vitamin D
The best way to increase vitamin D supplies is to try and get as much natural sunlight as possible, however, this is increasingly difficult in the winter months. This is a particular struggle for those who work in an office and are commuting when it is dark in the morning and evening and indoors while it is light!
In order to get an extra boost of vitamin D, without the help of the sun, you can boost your levels by implementing foods that are naturally rich in vitamin D, such as fortified cereals, oily fish, egg yolks, cheese and red meat, alternatively, you could take good quality supplements.
When should you visit your doctor?

If you’ve tried all the above and are still feeling very low and are finding those winter days a struggle, consider speaking to your doctor. They may recommend other options in the form of antidepressants, psychotherapy and talking therapies such as CBT and counselling. Don’t suffer in silence, and don’t worry, SAD is a common thing - you’re not alone.

Dr Preethi Daniel, Deputy Medical Director at the walk-in gp clinic, London Doctors Clinic part of the Doctors Clinic Group


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