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Shorter Days Getting You Down? 5 Bright Ways To Soak In Natural Light During Winter

Think the cooler weather is what’s getting you down? Think again. Winter’s shorter days and longer nights mean decreasing amounts of natural light, which can wreak havoc on body, mind and mood.

Circadian rhythms — the body’s internal 24-hour clock — depend on the sun’s light to synchronize wake and sleep patterns. Sunlight signals the body to slow down production of sleep-inducing melatonin and ramp up levels of mood-boosting serotonin. At sunset, it’s just the reverse. Winter’s later dawns and earlier evenings of winter throw the natural, happy balance of melatonin and serotonin out of whack. The result? Upset sleep patterns, seasonal blues and a nagging desire to crawl back under the bed covers.

But hibernators beware: Lack of light can do more than simply mess with your mood. According to Mayo Clinic, vitamin D — produced when the skin absorbs the sun’s UVB rays — plays a critical role in forming and maintaining strong bones. If you don’t get enough of this “sunshine vitamin,” you may have a greater loss of bone mass, increasing your risk for osteoporosis.

You needn’t book a plane ticket to keep your sunny disposition. Try these five bright ideas for getting your daily dose of winter light.

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  • Get moving.

    While virtually all exercise is effective at reducing stress and boosting moods, recent studies have shown that outdoor activity has an even greater positive effect on mental health than indoor workouts. Schedule a midday walk with a colleague or a morning run with a friend. Or try your hand (and legs and core) at a distinctly winter activity such as cross-country skiing, snowshoeing or ice skating.

  • Schedule your own sunset.

    Keep the faux sun shining by turning on lights or setting a timer for sometime around 3:45 p.m., just before sunset. In the morning, put your bedside lamp on a timer to switch on 15 minutes before your alarm for a simulated dawn effect.

  • Flick on full-spectrum bulbs.

    To help mimic the bright rays of natural sunshine, exchange standard, warm glow lights for the daylight-like shine of full-spectrum bulbs.

  • Wash your windows.

    Dirty windows can block a significant proportion of sun. For maximum exposure, wash your panes – white vinegar and newspaper will do the trick – then remove dirt-collecting, light-blocking screens until spring.

  • Add sunshine to your plate.

    No food is a silver bullet for a sunlight shortage, but the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics suggests adding foods rich in folate and vitamin B12 — that would be items such as fortified whole-grain breakfast cereals, oatmeal, wild salmon, low-fat dairy and eggs – to help boost serotonin production. For vitamin D, try egg yolks, fatty fish such as salmon, mushrooms and vitamin D-fortified milk, yogurt or breakfast cereals. Talk to your doctor about supplementation as well.

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