The weather is turning colder, nights are drawing in and soon it will be time to change the clocks. For some of us, along with the colder weather and darker nights, comes the “winter blues”, also known as Seasonal Affective Disorder.
Seasonal Affective Disorder (S.A.D) is very common in winter months due to lower levels of sunlight, but its more common in women – between 60% and 90% of those suffering from S.A.D. are female. For some women, the symptoms of SAD suddenly appear when they enter the menopause. The symptoms can feel like a dark cloud coming down on you. They include depression, lack of energy, decreased interest in significant activities, increased appetite, weight gain, increased sleep, excessive daytime sleepiness, afternoon slumps, slow, sluggish and lethargic movement.
Menopause and the Seasons
There have been many studies that have shown a link between menopausal symptoms and the seasons. It is more likely that the menopause will blossom in the springtime, following natures pattern as the flowers and trees bloom.
It may be no surprise that the temperature can affect menopause symptoms. Hot weather is bound to increase those horrible hot flashes, night sweats and heat exhaustion. Cold weather can also aggravate aching muscles and joint pain that comes with the menopause. Although the change in temperature can make symptoms worse, Seasonal Affective Disorder is usually caused by a lack of daylight in the winter months rather than temperature. Studies have found a connection between SAD and the menopause, causing the symptoms of menopause to be worse when we’re not getting enough sun.
Many studies have looked into the link between melatonin and SAD. Melatonin is a chemical that is created by the body and helps regulate sleep and your body cycle. Produced when it is dark, Melatonin makes you feel tired and starts to wind down your body to sleep. During the winter months, due to the lack of daylight, it is believed that the body produces more melatonin than usual. Too much melatonin can leave you feeling lethargic, low and depressed. Melatonin also affects the hormone production in the ovaries, and due to the decreased sensitivity to estrogen during the menopause, the disturbances in our body cycles can be made even worse when combining the menopause with Seasonal Affective Disorder.
How Much Do We Know About The Menopause and SAD
There is still a lot more to be studied about SAD and the menopause. There is evidence of a link between the two, and many women do experience worsened menopause symptoms during winter for different reasons.
Coping With SAD and The Menopause
Fortunately, sensitivity to the weather and the seasons during menopause is manageable with a few lifestyle changes. As with controlling menopause symptoms, maintaining a healthy lifestyle is of key importance:
- Proper nutrition – make sure you eat a healthy balanced diet.
- Regular exercise – try to do some form of exercise every day. The NHS recommends 150 minutes of moderate exercise a week. Although it can be tempting to curl up with a blanket and stay in where it is warm, getting out during daylight in winter is very important. Even taking a short walk can help.
- Get more natural sunlight – try to let in as much light into the house as possible, sit by windows and go outdoors lots.
- Socialise – getting out and meeting people is also great for boosting your mood.
- Try SAD lights/glasses – there are many different types of lights and light glasses you can buy that give you artificial daylight which many people have found help.
By adapting our routines and lifestyles to ensure we keep up with healthy living during winter, the symptoms of SAD can be manageable and make sure it doesn’t make the Menopause worse.