December 21, 2011

Winter solstice finds some short on joy

The winter solstice occurs tonight at 11:30 CST, marking the beginning of winter and the longest night of the year.

The winter solstice occurs tonight at 11:30 CST, marking the beginning of winter and the longest night of the year.

That means today is the shortest day. The sun is at its lowest in the southern sky.

Between the farther-away sun and the dreary winter days when there isn’t any sun at all, people can be feeling a little – or a lot – down.

“Low energy, low motivation, wanting to sleep more, a tendency to want to eat more, especially carbohydrates,” is the way Wichita psychiatrist Dwight St. Clair described Seasonal Affective Disorder on Tuesday. “A lot of people will tend to put on some weight. It’s like a bear getting ready for their hibernation.”

The disorder tends to show up starting in September and departs in March, St. Clair said. If symptoms are evident during those time periods for two years running, SAD can be the diagnosis, he said.

For those who feel SAD, and those who just feel a little sad, here are some ways to get more light into our lives this winter:

•  Buy full-spectrum daylight non-UV bulbs for your electric fixtures and have the lights on more, St. Clair said. You can also buy more expensive light boxes online. Look for one with 10,000 lux and sit in front of it for 30 minutes a day, he said. But a lot of his patients find relief by getting out more during the day and using the daylight bulbs, he said.

“They’re good to wake up to if you can put them on a timer, instead of having an obnoxious alarm. It’s more of a natural awakening.”

•  Get some exercise. Especially if you can get outside and do it in the daylight.

“Exercise intensifies your circadian rhythms so it’s easier to wake up in the morning and to go to sleep at night,” St. Clair said. It also helps alleviate the winter blues.

•  Have your doctor test your level of vitamin D-3, the sunshine vitamin. It seems to affect mood, and there are only a few months out of the year when we can get enough of it from the sun here in Wichita, being so far from the equator, St. Clair said. You can take 1,000 to 2,000 IU a day.
•  Take advantage of Christmas. It isn’t at this time of year for nothing. You can walk through concentrated amounts of lights during the holiday Illuminations event at Botanica nightly through Dec. 31 (with the exception of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day). Hours are 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. During the week of Dec. 26, the adult admission of $7 will be reduced to the children’s price of $5 for those who bring in two cans of food for the Kansas Food Bank.

Some people are kind and leave their lights up for the 12 days of Christmas (they begin – not end – on Dec. 25). And some leave them on during the day, too, which perks up a gray day.

•  Beyond Christmas, Wichita has a nightly bonfire at the Keeper of the Plains. The Ring of Fire keeps up its light year-round, even during winter, as long as the wind and river levels are not high. Gather at the confluence of the Arkansas and Little Arkansas rivers by 7 p.m. (standard time) for 15 minutes of big, bright fire in five pots.

The good news about today being the shortest day of the year is that we’re on the way to the longest day again. Sunrise is at 7:41 a.m. today, and sunset is at 5:14 p.m. The sun will rise at the same time Thursday, but the days will already start lengthening: Sunset will be a minute later, at 5:15.

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