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Weather & Health | Seasonal Affective Disorder

Here's how a lack of sunlight impacts your mood

Kevin MacKay

Monday, November 5, 2018, 4:09 PM - Feeling sad (seasonal affective disorder) is a common problem heading into the latter half of autumn. Is this the price we pay so we can enjoy the longer days of summer, or does weather play a role in influencing our mood?

Over the course of the year, daylight hours fluctuate from the shortest, during the winter solstice, to the longest, which occurs during the summer solstice.

(RELATED: Battling the winter blues)

Every point on Earth experiences the same duration of daylight, 4380 hours, over the course of a year, but locations closer to the poles experience a much larger variation from the shortest to the longest day, whereas locations on the equator experience twelve hours of daylight every day of the year.

In Canada, November is a month that sees little sunlight, in part due to Earth's position, while June typically sees the most sunlight.


This represents the number of daylight hours which aren’t obscured by clouds.

Toronto (44°N), Calgary (51°N) and Iqaluit (64°) experience an average of 2066, 2396 and 1477 hours of sunshine annually, respectively.

When asked to describe a typical autumn day, people will often think of chilly temperatures, clear skies and bright leaves. But for most areas, autumn is a season of unsettled weather and limited sunshine.

(RELATED: Here's how you can make it feel like summer in the winter)

Toronto only experiences about 30 per cent of its November daylight hours reflected as sunshine. Calgary experiences about 45 per cent and Iqaluit sees a mere 18 per cent.

In June, the daylight hours represented as sunshine in Toronto and Calgary are 55 per cent, while Iqaluit sees about 32 per cent.

This corresponds to more than twice as much sunshine in June than in November for Calgary and Toronto and six times as much in Iqaluit.


Toronto, along with the rest of eastern Canada, experiences an increase in large scale storms in October and November as a stronger storm track develops along the eastern seaboard, and multiple days of cloud can be associated with these storms.

Following these storms, colder northwest winds sweep across the warm Great Lakes resulting in lake-effect cloud.

Calgary experiences a rain shadow effect as storms interact with the Rocky Mountains in B.C. In the summer, a dominant ridge over the west results in common drought conditions which lowers humidity.

Iqaluit experiences a lot of cloud in the summer due to increased humidity resulting from the summer thaw of the sea ice leading to the evaporation of the open ocean.

In autumn, Iqaluit receives the tail-end of most east coast storms as the weaken over Greenland, this can cause prolonged periods of cloud thanks to the weak flow.

So, while some believe it’s simply the shorter days to blame for the autumn blues, the weather is playing a major role as well.


  • Get outside. Studies show that just a few minutes of fresh air can lift your spirits and mood. A study published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology revealed that people felt more positive in outdoor light so head out for a quick walk on your lunch hour. 
  • Find some fall-themed activities and make a move on pumpkin picking, corn mazes and fall hikes. Even when it’s cold and rainy, you’ll still get some exposure to UV rays, which can help boost your mood and regulate your body’s circadian rhythm. 
  • Peel away the blues: The smell of this citrus fruit is one of the most mood-enhancing around, according to a study published in Chemical Sciences. So grab yourself some Florida sunshine - orange you glad you know this! 
  • Hack into your happy chemicals by moving your body. Research by the British Journal of Sports Medicine reveals that a mere 20 minutes of physical activity can impact mood.
  • Get rid of clutter. Visual chaos may seem harmless but the disarray, disorganization and mess is stressful and brings people down. Studies show that when people are in aesthetically pleasing, organized and uncluttered surroundings, they feel more relaxed and content.
  • Focus on what’s going well. It’s impossible to be unhappy when you’re feeling grateful. Before you go to sleep every night, write down in a journal three things that you appreciated most about the day. You’ll fall asleep on a positive note and will be more likely to wake up feeling optimistic about the day ahead.


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