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'Store up your sunlight hours before winter'

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'Store up your sunlight hours before winter'
Doctors say we should make the most of the autumn sunshine. Photo: Shutterstock
10:52 CET+01:00
Spending time outdoors this autumn will help you survive a cold, dark Swedish winter. Baba Pendse, Head of Psychiatry at Lund University shares his top tips for battling the seasonal blues with The Local.
"Winter can be a difficult time for many people in Sweden, especially foreign workers and refugees here who come from warmer countries.
 
You start to feel tired, want to sleep in longer or just find yourself staying in more and eating sugary foods, including carbohydrates. Lots of my patients say they want to eat so many sandwiches or potatoes in the winter!
 
By spending 20 minutes in sunlight during the autumn, most healthy people can help prepare their bodies for the next season.
 
Sunlight helps to activate vitamin D, which helps fight depression, protect against colds and keep our bones healthy.
 
But you should wear sunscreen if you plan to stay in the sun for longer than 20 minutes.
 
Being in the sunlight now can also help your body clock to deal with the changing daylight hours later.
 

The twin towers of Hogalid Church in Stockholm match the trees in autumn. Photo: Shutterstock
 
However, all our body clocks are slightly different, which is why some people will find it harder to adjust to the winter than others, even if they prepare in advance. 
 
If you suffer from jet lag or have struggled with shift work in the past, then you may be more susceptible to getting a mild depression or Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) in the winter. About 10 per cent of people in Sweden fit into this category.
 
People with SAD might start to avoid socialising or lose interest in watching sport or movies or doing other things that usually make them happy. These people are often night owls, who get happier as the day goes on, so they end up staying up later.
 
For this group, it is vital to stick to a regular routine. So if you usually get up at 6am, then keep doing this, even if you don't feel like it, and try not to stay up too late. Don't say no to those social invitations or put off hosting a party either.
 
Some people with mild SAD find sitting by a special sun lamp with ultraviolet radiation either at home or at work is also helpful, although not all experts agree on how well these lamps work.
 
About two to three per cent of people fit into a final category. These people are so depressed that they can sleep all day and don't feel like any social contact. These are disturbing symptoms and you should seek immediate advice from a doctor if you are experiencing them.
 
You may be able to arrange intensive therapy in special light rooms or your doctor may decide to prescribe antidepressants.
 
But for most people, the key thing is spending time in the sunlight. This is not even a cheap therapy - it is free."
 

Professor Baba Pendse is Head of Psychiatry at Lund University.
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