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Dr. Lloyd's blog has now been retired. We appreciate all the wisdom and support Dr. Lloyd has brought to the WebMD community throughout the years.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Shortest Days Approaching

I’m a calendar watcher.

Some folks are clock watchers, but I prefer a wider horizon. In my mind I’m frequently playing with days and dates. On the first day of each month I commit to memory on which day of the week the 7th, 14th, 21st, and 28th appear – they fall on Sundays this month. From there I can easily create a mental calendar.

I can’t say it helps my memory. It simply helps me track days and dates.

In my mind, for some reason, the summer solstice and winter solstice are important calendar mileposts. The winter solstice is just a few days away. It occurs at the instant when the sun’s position in the sky is at its greatest angular distance on the other side of the equatorial plane from the observer. Depending on astronomical shifts, winter solstice occurs some time between December 20 and December 23 each year in the northern hemisphere. (Trivia buffs: 7:04 a.m. ET, Sunday, December 21, 2008!) You recognize this as the date with the shortest daytime elapsing between sunrise and sunset.

Since childhood I have kept track of whether the days are getting longer (happy news) or shorter (gloomy news). Back then, winter solstice traditionally meant surviving grade school in an underheated building and summer solstice heralded a long vacation, although nowadays most schools close by late May.

For the past 15 years I have been in Maine when the summer solstice occurs. Combined with its northern latitude, daylight on this special day appears before 4am and persists until 10pm or so. It’s usually a mild June day with happy memories. Conversely, I am on a family ski vacation in late December when the sun makes an all too brief appearance atop the peaks. By 2pm long shadows have already formed that direct skiers to the waiting village below.

Maybe mood is actually linked to sun exposure – kinda gets you thinking.

With regards to good vision and astronomical phenomena, I’m far more concerned about the shorter winter days and the well-documented increased risk of bodily injury related to poor visibility. If you can’t see well you are more prone to trouble, and if others can’t see you then those same risks are magnified

Here are a few ways to make yourself more noticeable when outdoors this winter, whether it is clear, foggy, drizzly or snowing:

  • Wear bright colorful clothing when outdoors
  • Adhesive reflective tape will boost your visibility (any hardware store)
  • Wear large funny hats, especially in mall parking lots, so drivers can identify you
  • Apply clip-on lights to your apparel or headwear when you jog or bike (available at any sporting goods store)
  • Keep a supply of self-igniting flares in your car in case of emergency
  • Store an ultra-bright flashlight in your car
  • I also keep a lightweight ‘coal-miner’ headband lamp in my car for changing tires…keeps the hands free

My mother always encouraged me to blend-in with the crowd, “William, you don’t want to be too conspicuous.” Sorry, Mom, but when the days get this short it helps to stand out and be recognized…from a very far distance!

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Posted by: Bill Lloyd MD at 8:50 am

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