The Winter Blues
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a mood disorder in which people have normal mental health throughout most of the year and experience depressive symptoms in the winter when the temperatures drop and the days grow short. For those who suffer from the disorder, winter seems to initiate an annual cycle of abnormally negative thoughts, heightened carb cravings, unwanted weight gain, and an overpowering need to sleep.
The science behind the disorder revolves around the lack of sunlight entering the eyes. This, in turn, fails to stimulate the production of the neurotransmitter serotonin (which supports nerve cell functioning, including mood). Less light, therefore, results in lower serotonin levels. In addition, the increased darkness prompts the production of melatonin (which promotes sleep). The combination of less serotonin and increased melatonin results in Seasonal Affective Disorder.
SAD is a common affliction for those who live in our Northern climate. In fact, those who live farthest from the equator where sunlight is limited are affected the most. For example, 9.2% of Alaskans reported having SAD compared to 1.6% of Floridians. Moreover, women are three times more likely to suffer from seasonal depression than men. However, men are not immune to it – especially if depression runs in their family.
There are many effective treatments for this kind of depression.
Photo-therapy is available in the form of light boxes. This is the most popular remedy and can be used approximately 30-45 minutes daily. The light must be twenty-five times as bright as a normal living room light. The light does not need to be actual daylight from the sun. It is important to note that light boxes are not regulated by the FDA. Antidepressant medications are also available as well as the use of ionized-air administration, which involves releasing charged particles into the sleep environment. In fact, this treatment was found to be effective with a 47% improvement in symptoms.
Another explanation of this disorder is that Vitamin D levels are too low (due to lack of Ultraviolet B) therefore, an alternative to photo-therapy would be Vitamin D supplements. Physical exercise has also shown to be an effective form of therapy. Depending on the individual, one treatment may be used in conjunction with another to achieve the best possible outcome.
If you or a loved one is recognizing a noticeable change in mood or having unusual feelings of depression during the winter months, contact a healthcare professional to discuss what therapy or treatments are right for you.