You’ve got to admit, there is something a little depressing about the weeks and weeks of dreary winter weather in Kentucky.
In fact, the lack of sunlight really IS depressing. The shorter days and gloomy weather can actually cause a condition called Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD.
According to Dr. Rick Graebe, a behavioral optometrist in Versailles, this depression is caused when less light reaches our melanopsin receptor cells in our retinas.
These cells measure light intensity and connect to our pineal gland, which is responsible for turning melatonin (the hormone essential for sleep) into serotonin (the hormone most associated with feelings of happiness).
When we have less serotonin in our systems, we are more likely to feel sad.
For some folks who suffer with SAD symptoms, doctors prescribe “light therapy,” using special lights to mimic extra sunlight throughout the day.
Brands like goLite feature a blue light that helps suppress melatonin.
For severe SAD symptoms, doctors will sometimes prescribe serotonin.
The opposite problem can occur when kids or adults spend too much time looking at computers, video games or televisions.
These devices emit a blue light that will suppress melatonin, which can make it difficult to settle down and go to sleep at night.
For children, in particular, Dr. Graebe said, it’s important to sleep in a darkened room and turn off all electronics an hour or two before bedtime.
For adults who have to work at computers all day, Dr. Graebe can recommend Gunnar Optics, which are yellow tinted glasses that block the blue light.
Dr. Graebe has more advice for kids in cold winter weather – when it’s too cold to play outdoors, play video games.
Not just any video games, though.
He recommends kids (and mom and dad, too) spend time playing movement games that use the Wii Fit or X Box Kinnect game systems.
Not only do these games provide physical activity, they help a child’s developing visual system.
“These games provide visual feedback from the screen about how your body moves,” he said.
“This allows the visual input to direct the body’s movement, a key part of the integration of the senses.
“These games also help with balance and hand-eye coordination.”