The news has been saying that, to date, Detroit has had the fifth snowiest winter on record. There’s still time to beat that record. We have had record sub-zero temperatures and we haven’t seen the sun in at least two months. Until this week!
This week temperatures soared into the upper 30s and one day into the 40s; we had a day of sunshine and melting snow. It was glorious. But short lived. Next week, the polar vortex temperatures are expected to return.
Reggie has been sleeping more and bugging me for treats more. After our daily walk, he’s been playing for less time. Is it possible that Reggie is SAD?
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a temporary condition humans can be afflicted with during the winter months, often referred to just as the “winter blues.” The loss of sunshine and minimal full spectrum daylight levels affects our moods, sleep patterns, appetites, and energy. Can the same be true for Reggie? Or am I just projecting my, ahem, love of winter onto him?
Melatonin is a hormone produced in the pineal gland of the brain and it controls sleep cycles. The dog brain also has a pineal gland and also produces melatonin. The pineal gland is light sensitive and produces melatonin at night, in darkness. Sounds funny right? The production of melatonin is curbed when light enters through the retina. Because light levels are low in the winter in northern climates, it makes sense that more melatonin would be produced and therefore Reggie would sleep more. With SAD, melatonin levels get so high that feelings of depression and severe lethargy are experienced.
Serotonin is another hormone, the “happy hormone”, produced in both human brains and dog brains. It is associated with mood, appetite, and also sleep. Sunlight is critical to the production of serotonin. Low levels of serotonin can affect your mood; many anti-depression drug therapies are based on increasing serotonin levels. In order to increase the serotonin, the “happy” in our systems, we often seek comfort foods for pleasure. It’s no wonder then that Reggie is head-butting me more for treats.
So what do I do? I notice that on the few times we have actually had sunshine Reggie lays in the corner behind the kitchen table so the light shines on him through the window. I always thought it was weird because it was such an unusual spot for him to lay but now I think I get it. He’s doing it right all by himself- get as much sunshine as you can. Take your dogs for walks during daylight hours if at all possible- the days will get longer again soon I promise! Leave the blinds open and move their beds to a sunny spot during the day so they can catch the rays not the zzz’s.
There’s only a few weeks left until spring, no reason to be SAD!