Winter Brain: Why Do We Feel Sad and Tired in Winter?

Do you feel tired, irritable, moody, or depressed during the dreary winter months? Well, you are not alone. As the days get shorter and the temperatures begin to drop, the idea of the “winter blues” is not something to be dismissed. In fact, it can be a sign of a real medical condition known as seasonal affective disorder, or SAD.


Why Do People Get Depressed in The Winter?

why people get depressed in winter

While we all go through periods of highs and lows in life, sometimes these mood changes begin with the change of seasons. Recognized as a Major Depressive Disorder, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), commonly called the winter blues, starts to become apparent during the fall and winter months. During this time, the days become shorter, and colder temperatures can trigger feelings of low mood, fatigue, and lack of motivation. 

SAD occurs in 0.5 to 3 percent of individuals in the general population, and it affects 10 to 20 percent of people with major depressive disorder. SAD is thought to occur when our daily body rhythms become out-of-sync because of the reduced sunlight. While some people struggle with depression the entire year that gets worse in the winter months, others struggle with depression only during the winter months. 

SAD’s signs and symptoms can start out as mild and, when left unmanaged, can become more severe as the season progresses.


Signs and symptoms of SAD may include:

  • Feeling depressed nearly every day
  • Loss of interest in activities that once brought joy
  • Loss of energy
  • Trouble staying asleep or falling asleep
  • Change in appetite or weight
  • Feeling irritable or agitated
  • Trouble staying on task or concentrating
  • Feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness, loneliness, or guilt
  • Frequent thoughts of death or suicide


Why Do Some People Feel Lazy During The Winter Season?

why people feel lazy during winter season

The shorter days and decreased sunlight of the winter months can impact your mood and productivity levels. In fact, sunlight affects our circadian rhythm, or internal clocks, which change serotonin levels in our brain. 

Serotonin is a chemical produced by our brain that stabilizes our mood, feelings of well-being, and happiness. This hormone impacts our entire body. It also allows brain cells and other cells to communicate with each other. Serotonin helps with sleeping, eating, and digestion. When our brain produces too little serotonin, it can lead to depression.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, changes in serotonin levels can cause lower energy levels, a loss of interest in things that once brought joy, feeling tired or lethargic, and feeling the urge to sleep. Without enough sun exposure, serotonin levels can decrease. Essentially as the winter months progress, serotonin levels continue to drop, which can make you feel more sluggish or lazy.


Preparing Your Mood for Winter

preparing your mood for winter


While you wait out the winter months and the transition back to spring days full of sunlight, you can make some changes to help improve your mood during the colder months to reduce your winter blues.

  • Eat healthy foods. Feeling down in the dumps or depressed can make you desire foods that are high in fat, sugar, and carbohydrates. However, you should strive to eat a balanced diet. A carbohydrate and sugar-rich diet will give you an initial boost of energy, but then your blood sugar will drop (leaving you feeling even more sluggish). Be sure to eat plenty of plant proteins, whole grain, fruits, vegetables, and nuts. These foods will help you get the protein, vitamins, and minerals you need to maintain your energy.
  • Exercise regularly. Although exercising is the last thing you want to do when you are tired, regular exercise helps you release endorphins that will improve your mental health and boost your energy levels. When possible, exercise outside. Even if it’s not sunny, you’ll still get some natural UV rays to boost your vitamin D levels.
  • Light therapy. Lack of light is a contributing factor to enhanced feelings of depression during the winter months. Light therapy helps create exposure to light or artificial light. Whether it’s taking a walk outside on a sunny day or using artificial lights that mimic natural daylight, light therapy ranging from 15-45 a day can decrease the symptoms of your winter blues. 
  • Increase social interactions. Interacting with family, friends, and colleagues can help improve your mood. Even when these interactions are virtual, it will help you feel connected to others while navigating the winter months.


Typically, the winter blues go away with the change of the seasons. As the days get longer and the sun begins to shine more, we start to feel a bit more like our old selves. However, if you’re looking for ways to keep your brain active during the winter months or COVID isolation, we can help. If you want to sharpen their mental focus, our brain training programs can help. The Brain Workshop can work with you or your loved one to achieve success in a specific targeted area. Regardless of your age or industry, a faster and stronger brain will help you achieve your academic goals, further your career advancement, increase your earning potential, and improve your self-confidence. 


Contact a member of our team to learn more.


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