Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) : Winter Depression






We all love a bit of sun. But sunshine has had a bad press in recent years. And like coffee, carbs and saturated fats, it’s a guilty pleasure for most people.

The truth is, apart from holidays, most of us don’t even see the sun very much. We work under fluorescent lights, exercise at the gym and even go shopping indoors. Bear in mind that even on a cloudy day, natural daylight is ten times more intense than office lighting and you’ll see that most of us get less natural light than the average cave dweller!

It didn’t use to be this way. Our ancestors got up at sunrise and went to bed when it got dark. Human beings are designed to be awake during the day and asleep at night. When it’s dark we get an increase in a hormone called melatonin produced by the pineal gland that makes us sleepy.

Bright light entering your eyes slows down the production of melatonin and at the same time it stimulates the production of serotonin, its energising daytime counterpart.

Ultra violet (UV) light in sunlight causes the skin to produce vitamin D which amongst other benefits, stimulates the production of feel-good brain chemicals. Some studies say that morning light is most effective in doing this as it contains more of the UV rays that are needed.

And mounting evidence suggests that light is the key to good health. More and more studies show that light really can treat a variety of conditions, ranging from PMS to eczema. One recent study showed it can even lessen the chance of developing ovarian and breast cancer.

Of course, the research isn’t a green light to sun worshippers. It doesn’t change the fact that excessive sun exposure puts you at risk of skin cancer. But nor should you avoid the sun altogether, as regular short periods of exposure have loads of benefits for your health, mood and energy levels.



Sunlight And Mood

Winter depression ( or winter blues) is a common slump in mood of Scandinavians. Doctors estimate that about 20% of all Swedes are affected and it seems to be genetic.

It was first described by the 6th Century Goth scholar Jordanes. And in the USA the diagnosis of seasonal affective disorder (or SAD for short) was first proposed by Norman E. Rosenthal, MD in 1984. Rosenthal wondered why he became sluggish during the winter after moving from sunny South Africa to NEW York. He started to experiment with increasing exposure to artificial light and found that this made a difference.

Isn't it true that most of us feel more tired in the winter months? We eat "comfort food" and put on a little weight. We don't want to get out of bed in the mornings and feel low?

These symptoms are more commonly reported at higher latitudes (50 degrees North or South) but plateaus soon after in other words things don't get worse and worse as you approach the North or South pole.

Some people experience extreme versions of these symptoms and they are diagnosed as having Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD (or sometimes SADS -where the final "S" stands for "Syndrome") and approximately 75% of those diagnosed with SAD are female.

The key to diagnosis here is that the symptoms disrupt normal life, work and relationships and this is an important distinction.

Most SAD sufferers experience normal mental health throughout most of the year, but experience depressive symptoms in the winter.

Around 20% of SAD sufferers will experience elevated mood in the summer months which if exaggerated may be diagnosed as being bipolar

SAD mood variations are believed to be related to daylight and not temperature. SAD can affect people to varying degrees but generally people will say that they are “down” or have “the blues”. They may feel depressed although not be diagnosed as being clinically depressed. Generally, people with SAD will feel lethargic, loose interest in sex, crave carbs and chocolate and gain weight.


What can be done to help ?

 

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