Answered by Heather Morgan on Monday, December 7, 2009
Seasonal Affective Disorder is often referred to as "winter depression" because the symptoms are strikingly similar to those of depression. The distinction is that SAD comes in late October or early November and dissipates by March or April, whereas clinical depression is not time-bound. Though it's is not entirely clear what causes SAD, Reid Wilson, Ph.D., associate clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine, says it's believed to be related to the "lens of the day," or the length of time between sunrise and sunset. "According to this theory," says Wilson, "it is not the winter cloudiness or cold weather that's the culprit, but rather the correlation between shorter days and our bodies' reduced production of the mood-regulating transmitter serotonin. A serotonin deficiency can result in any or all of the following symptoms: fatigue; heaviness or lack of energy; loss of interest in activity you normally enjoy; a need for more sleep; a heightened craving for sweets and starches; poor concentration; and difficulty completing tasks. Only 5 percent of the population are actually prone to serotonin depletion. But if you experience the above symptoms during the winter months, there are two things you can do to help yourself:
1. Get up and go outdoors for 10 to 15 minutes per day, preferably between 6 and 8 A.M.
2. Allow more morning light into the bedroom. (This helps even if your eyes are still closed.) In severe cases of Seasonal Affective Disorder, sitting in front of a lightbox every morning for about 90 minutes has proven helpful. "There is also new research suggesting that creating negative ion exposure is as effective as using a lightbox," says Wilson. There are fewer negative ions in the winter than in the summer, and keeping a negative ion generator going in the home is promising new treatment. But don't run out and buy one without talking to your doctor, he cautions. Checking in with an M.D. is a good idea for anyone with persistent SAD symptoms, advises Wilson. Thyroid disorders and chronic viral infections have symptoms that can mimic those of SAD, so it's not a great candidate for self-diagnosis.