Navigating the Autumn Equinox: Wellness Tips for the Darker Days

September 20, 2023

The Equinox

The equinox will occur in the next several days. The autumn equinox occurs midway between the longest and shortest days of the year when light and darkness are equal. The days will be darker, and the nights will be longer from now until December 21st. This sense of darkness is heightened by the impending time change, which will make mornings marginally lighter but evenings significantly darker. This time will also have an effect on our personal 24-hour circadian rhythm, which regulates our core body temperature and sleep-wake cycle, as well as numerous physiological, emotional, cognitive, and behavioural activities. With the shorter days and darker evenings, a person's circadian cycle may be thrown off. The longer nights can have an effect on this rhythm, and some of us may find that we sleep longer in the winter than in the summer when the early morning sun wakes us. We've all experienced jet lag and how it might take many days to recover. Similarly, when we set our clocks back one hour, it takes us about a week to acclimatise to the new time schedule. Because the weeks between September 23rd and December 21st will have decreased light each day, it is critical to maintain a regular sleep pattern to offset the darkness, and we may find that we sleep longer. 

Consequently, with the coming of the equinox, our way of life shifts inward from now until the next equinox near St. Patrick’s Day. We imagine fires and hot meals. The day is more structured, and we frequently pick up new interests to fill the longer evenings. The equinox can thus be viewed as a pivot, a point at which we turn our attention inward rather than outwardly towards the world. It is thus a really powerful time, one in which we can think about the path forward and how best to nourish ourselves during the dark half of the year. This shorter day affects us in different ways.

We may not obtain enough vitamin D owing to a lack of light, as our bodies naturally synthesise vitamin D when exposed to sunlight. If at all feasible, we should go for a walk or perform some other outdoor exercise between 12 noon and 2pm, when the light is at its best. It is also a good idea to get your vitamin D levels checked with a blood test to make sure you are not overdoing it on supplements. Too little vitamin D is just as hazardous as too much. 

Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that belongs to the vitamin D family, which also comprises vitamins D1, D2, and D3. Vitamin D is important because it regulates calcium and phosphorus intake in the body and boosts immunity. 

Phosphorus is required for the growth, maintenance, and repair of all tissues and cells, as well as the creation of DNA and RNA, the genetic building blocks. Phosphorus is also required for the proper balance and utilisation of other vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin D, iodine, magnesium, and zinc.

Getting enough vitamin D may also help prevent multiple sclerosis. Sintzel et al noted that there are numerous observational studies that have suggested that there is a correlation between the level of serum vitamin D and MS risk and disease activity and that even later trials support these observational studies. However, they point out that,

Study limitations identified in this review recognize the need for larger controlled clinical trials to establish vitamin D supplementation as the standard of care for MS patients. Though there is increasing evidence indicating that lower vitamin D levels are associated with increased risk of MS and with greater clinical and brain MRI activity in established MS, the impact of vitamin D supplementation on MS activity remains inadequately investigated1.

Saponaro et al2. found that low serum 25OHD levels are connected with an increased risk of cardiovascular disorders such as hypertension, coronary artery disease, ischemic heart disease, heart failure, stroke, and type 2 diabetes. They contend, however, that it is still uncertain whether vitamin D deficiency is a cause of cardiovascular illness or only a marker of poor health in chronic disease. 

We also know that vitamin D plays a significant role in our immune system, and that those with low vitamin D levels may be more susceptible to infections and autoimmune disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis, type 1 diabetes, and inflammatory bowel disease.

Grant et al3 have noted that several observational studies and clinical trials found that supplementing with vitamin D lowered the incidence of influenza, whereas others did not. They suggest that patients at risk of influenza and/or COVID-19 take 10,000 IU/d of vitamin D3 for a few weeks to rapidly elevate 25(OH)D concentrations, followed by 5000 IU/d. The goal should be to increase 25(OH)D concentrations to greater than 40-60 ng/mL (100-150 nmol/L). Higher vitamin D3 doses may be beneficial in the treatment of persons infected with COVID-19.

I would add that before increasing vitamin D supplements that it is prudent to get a blood test done to ascertain your current levels as having too much Vitamin D may also be harmful. 

Too much vitamin D, also known as vitamin D toxicity, is most commonly caused by taking too much prescription-strength vitamin D or too much over-the-counter vitamin D supplement. Excessive sun exposure does not result in vitamin D toxicity, and eating too much vitamin D through your diet alone results in vitamin D toxicity only seldom.

Vitamin D toxicity symptoms include a loss of appetite, nausea and vomiting, dehydration, and constipation. Increased thirst and urine frequency are also possible, as are muscle weakness and bone pain. These symptoms also cause disorientation and exhaustion.

A decrease in mood is another factor that may impact people at this time. This can take the form of SAD, or Seasonal Affective disorder. This is a kind of depression that occurs primarily in the autumn and winter when there is less natural sunlight. Low energy, feelings of melancholy or emptiness, changes in sleep habits, impatience, difficulties concentrating, and weight gain are common symptoms. SAD is commonly treated with light therapy, psychotherapy, and, in certain cases, medication. SAD has been thoroughly researched, and studies have indicated that exposure to light, particularly light in the morning, can be an effective treatment for reducing its symptoms.

This low mood may also be lessened by taking a proactive approach. Shifting to a warming, nourishing diet of seasonal foods, such as fresh soups cooked with root vegetables, may be part of this approach. It is critical to acquire enough rest to facilitate the transition from summer to winter. Gentle exercise is also preferable to strenuous activity, and meditation with a candle or incense is beneficial. Tilia, Crataegus, Passiflora, Matricaria, and oat milk are examples of herbs and foods that may be helpful.

Needless to say, the autumn equinox is also a time to reflect upon the coming darkness. It can be an ideal opportunity to accept this quiet time. After all, the harvest is over and most of the produce is now stored for the winter months. These 3 months are then an opportunity to nurture our inner selves. We can become creative by not doing things. The urge to spring clean is gone but there is often an urge to start this class or that activity. Our forebears did not do that. They saw the coming months as a time for storytelling and recovery. It may be a time to listen to some family lore or visit older neighbours and hear about their lives long ago. It may also be the time to take out some old long forgotten hobby and discover the joy it gave you again.

Enjoy this gradual move into winter.

How storytelling affects the brain - Eric Garland


1 Sintzel MB, Rametta M, Reder AT. Vitamin D and Multiple Sclerosis: A Comprehensive Review. Neurol Ther. 2018 Jun;7(1):59-85. doi: 10.1007/s40120-017-0086-4. Epub 2017 Dec 14. PMID: 29243029; PMCID: PMC5990512.

2 Saponaro F, Marcocci C, Zucchi R. Vitamin D status and cardiovascular outcome. J Endocrinol Invest. 2019 Nov;42(11):1285-1290. doi: 10.1007/s40618-019-01057-y. Epub 2019 Jun 6. PMID: 31172459.

3 Grant WB, Lahore H, McDonnell SL, Baggerly CA, French CB, Aliano JL, Bhattoa HP. Evidence that Vitamin D Supplementation Could Reduce Risk of Influenza and COVID-19 Infections and Deaths. Nutrients. 2020 Apr 2;12(4):988. doi: 10.3390/nu12040988. PMID: 32252338; PMCID: PMC7231123.

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