How lack of sunlight during cloudy, winter months impacts the brain

It's been the cloudiest January in Minnesota in decades. The gloomy weather and lack of sunshine can have an impact on our bodies. With the combination of fewer daylight hours and less visible sun during the day, experts say your brain starts to send the wrong signals to your body. 

“The brain has actual regions that are connected to the eye that are light sensitive - different brain regions called the suprachiasmatic nucleus,” said Dr. Kaz Nelson, a psychiatrist at the University of Minnesota. 

That region sends signals to the rest of your brain, and body, depending on the amount of light it receives. During the day, when it normally senses adequate light – it alerts your body that it’s daytime and that it’s time to have energy and time to work. If it’s cloudy and dark outside, it tells the body the opposite. 

“If these brain regions aren’t sensing the amount of light that it would normally like to see that it would like to maintain mood, people can feel tired, sluggish, low mood and sometimes even sadness despondency, helplessness,” said Dr. Nelson.

It’s called Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD. It can impact people differently, but many say they feel its effects this time of year.

“A lack of motivation. I would say,” said Jacob Magnuson, who is hoping for sunny days. “It’s kind of dark out all the time.”

With more days of clouds in the forecast, Dr. Nelson says things like light therapy and Vitamin D can help combat the symptoms. Until then, think happy thoughts.