The winter months are arriving bringing holiday cheer and shorter days. For many people who are affected by SAD (seasonal affective disorder) it can feel like someone turned the lights out on them…literally. SAD is defined as winter depression that is correlated to a lack of sunlight. This winter depression affects primarily women ages 15 to 55. For some, the symptoms start early on in their teen years and can manifest as just being more irritable and anxious during the winter months. For others it can not appear until they are in their 30's with increasing symptoms.
The shorter days of winter and lack of light is considered the main culprit leading many people to feel depression during this time of year. It can also occur during dark rainy days during other times of the year. Symptoms include depression, anxiety, irritability, cravings for carbohydrates, and fatigue. With less sunlight the brain does not produce enough serotonin leading to these symptoms. Researchers are studying other possible causes such as interruptions in the body's natural circadian rhythm and Vitamin D deficiency.
The best known treatment is to find the light…well any light you can find in these winter months. Doctors recommend taking a walk during the peak light hours to get exposure and many people find light therapy helpful using artificial full spectrum lights. Another form of light therapy is called dawn stimulation where programmed lights come on in your bedroom in the morning hours to mimic an early sunrise.
Researchers are looking into a possible connection between vitamin D deficiency and SAD. This is because vitamin D is produced through exposure to sunlight. The theory is people aren't producing enough vitamin D in the winter months with limited sunlight. A simple blood test can be performed at your doctor's office to see if your vitamin D levels are low. This is an important first step to take prior to supplementing because Vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin and can be toxic if over supplemented.
The most important thing is to not hunker down in a dark room no matter how tempting. This will worsen the symptoms and make for a long, dark winter. Look for ways to get some sun exposure even if it is cold outside. Here are some quick tips to help you get through the SAD months.
• Walk or sit outside several times a day during the sunniest hours.
• Exercise regularly- this helps to raise your serotonin levels.
• Keep your rooms bright with artificial light and/or bright colors.
• Eat protein with high fiber carbohydrates to avoid pushing your food cravings to the next level.
• Get enough sleep at night.