Before the sun cancer scare of the 1970’s and 80’s, people spent a fair amount of time outside. Fresh air and sunlight was considered important to physical and mental health. At the time of this writing, public schools have reduced Physical Education and recess times. Children are often driven to school and spend hours plugged behind computers. Much the same can be said about teenagers and adults. If a person is a shift worker, there is even less natural light in their life and more disruption of their natural 24 hour cycle.

It is interesting to note that there are not many day time drinkers. That maybe due to regular working hours, but most social drinking is done in the evening and dark areas. Interestingly, this dark-hour drinking appears to have a biological side to it.

One experiment, involving changes of light, was conducted to determine the effects of stress on the drinking habits of rats. This experiment, conducted by the Department of Experimental Pharmacology at the Southwest Foundation for Research and Education, found the following:

“The rats clearly preferred plain water except on weekends when they went on real alcoholic binges. This was perplexing at first but it was noted that the automatic time switch on the lights was out of order and the rats were being left in continuous darkness over weekends. Another second study kept a group of laboratory rats in total darkness without subjecting them to any anxiety stress. Their preference switched to alcohol and water instead of plain water.

In Science, July 30, 1973, Dr. Irving Geller, Chairman of the Department, refers to this as ‘darkness-induced drinking phenomenon.’ He relates it to the work reported in 1963 by Nobel Prize winner Dr. Julius Axelrod, who found that the rat pineal gland produced more melatonin during the dark nighttime period than when it was light.

Dr. Geller then gave injections of pineal melatonin to rats kept on a regular light-dark cycle and not subjected to any anxiety. The injections alone turned these rats into alcoholics. Dr. Geller stated that “it is only through such animal studies that one can hope to attain a clearer understanding and perhaps an ultimate treatment or cure, or both, for alcoholism in humans.”

There also appears to be a small percentage of the drinking population who tend to drink more in the lesser light seasons of the Autumn and Winter. This is something to consider for people who find themselves feeling tired and depressed during these months. I know that I felt tired during the winter months in the prairies as I was often inside for most of the days and seeing less than an hour of sunlight a day.

If you are light cycle sensitive and/or a shift worker, you might consider spending time in a tanning booth. I found that this energized my body and made me feel much better when working grave yard shifts.


 

McGrath Re, Yahia, M, “Preliminary Data on Seasonally Related Alcohol Dependence,” Department of Psychology, Fairleigh Dickinson University, Teaneck, N.J. 07666. Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 1993 Jul, 54:7, 260-2. Study done with Ken Blum, PhD.