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The clocks are going back this weekend – which means we are headed for shorter and darker days.

Those who suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) will know just how much of a detrimental impact the lack of light and warmth can have on your mental state, but there are things you can do to mitigate the effects.

A new study has revealed that drinking coffee can help to improve mood as the days get shorter and darker.

The pan-European survey funded by the Institute for Scientific Information on Coffee, explored the impact of lifestyle and diet choices on mood, and found that more than a quarter of adults across Europe experience depression (28%) and increased feelings of sadness (28%) as daylight hours decrease.

One in five adults in the survey say they drink coffee to improve their mood, The research suggests that 75mg of caffeine every four hours can result in a pattern of sustained improvement of mood over the day.

The consumer survey of over 5,000 adults across the UK, Italy, Finland, alternative to miralax for adults Germany and Poland also revealed that as hours of daylight decrease respondents become more anxious (21%), find it harder to concentrate (24%), lose motivation to exercise (25%) and see a dip in sports performance (21%).  

During the darker, colder months of the year some people can suffer from persistent low mood, loss of pleasure or interest in normal activities, and a lack of energy, commonly known as Seasonal Affective Disorder. SAD typically presents itself in the autumn and winter, with remission during spring or summer.  

According to scientific research, lifestyle measures such as a good diet and regular exercise are known to contribute to improvements in mood and wellbeing. This new research also indicates that regular coffee intake can lead to an improvement in most cognitive measures and moods as well as decreased reaction times and increased alertness. 

Assistant professor Giuseppe Grosso, from the University of Catania, says: ‘There is evidence that coffee polyphenols may pass the blood-brain barrier, exert anti-neuroinflammatory effects and even promote neurogenesis, hence resulting in decreased risk of both cognitive and affective disorders.’

The survey also looked at coffee drinking habits related to shorter days, with the survey suggesting the main motivation for drinking coffee for 29% adults during this time was to feel more energised; 20% said they drank coffee to improve their mood and emotions, while 21% said it helped with alertness or concentration.

How does coffee improve mood?

A review of existing research has suggested that 75mg of caffeine (the equivalent of one cup of coffee) every four hours, can result in a pattern of sustained improvement of mood over the day. 

Additional research found that even just the smell of coffee may enhance working memory and stimulate alertness.

Scientists found that coffee can also act as brain stimulant: heightening alertness, keeping arousal, improving executive speed, maintaining vigilance, and promoting memory, which are associated with attention, mood, and cognitive function. 

Interestingly, mood is not only improved by the caffeine itself – but also by the expectation of having consumed caffeine, which improves mood together with attention.  

For those lacking the energy to exercise during winter, coffee may help too. The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) concluded that there is an association between caffeine consumption and an increase in endurance performance (aerobic exercise lasting over five minutes), endurance capacity and a reduction in the rated perceived effort or exertion during exercise.

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