What is Seasonal Affective Disorder (S.A.D.)? S.A.D. Is a type of depression that afflicts people only during the autumn and winter months usually between October and April. It is believed that the cause of this disorder is due to the shorter daylight hours in the autumn and the winter months.
Who is Affected by S.A.D.? Almost five per cent of the population suffers from a severe form of S.A.D. and 15 per cent suffer more moderate symptoms. Studies have shown that women are four times more likely to experience S.A.D. than men.
Symptoms of S.A.D. • feeling down, gloomy • loss of energy • withdrawal socially • carbohydrate cravings and increased appetite • sleep problems • normal daily functions are difficult to perform • difficulty concentrating and feeling alert
As the spring and summer months approach and the days get longer, these symptoms do diminish, alhough someone afflicted with S.A.D. may experience brief periods of S.A.D.-like symptoms in the summer for one to two weeks.
S.A.D. vs The "Winter Blues" The winter "blues" are similar, yet the symptoms are milder than those of S.A.D. People experiencing the winter "blues" also lack of energy, feeling sad or down, however the most significant difference is the ability to continue with normal functioning.
What Causes S.A.D.? The lack of sunlight in the fall and winter months reduces the production of serotonin, a chemical which signals the brain to overproduce the hibernation hormone , melatonin. Too much melatonin during the day causes sleepiness and shortens one's activity cycle.
Treatment for S.A.D. Diet By reducing carbohydrates in the diet, fewer symptoms of lethargy will be experienced, as well as reduced cravings for food, which will the reduce weight gain that frequently accompanies this illness. Light Therapy Light therapy involves being exposed to a bright light, twenty times brighter than normal light, under specific conditions. This therapy involves a daily treatment, usually fifteen minutes to half an hour in length. There are different types of light (blue, white, and red), with blue being the newest form. The light sources are available in different forms; special lamps that you sit in front of in the morning, a light visor that is worn like a baseball cap, and even a pair of glasses.
Light therapy produces serotonin and reduces the amount of melatonin, the hibernation hormone, which is produced during the day. This helps to extend the activity cycle during the day, and allows for better sleep at night. Light therapy can actually reset the body clock (Circadian Rhythms) when it gets out of whack,' allowing for better sleep patterns.
Light therapy is found to have a therapeutic, anti-depressant effect in 70% of people with S.A.D. Some relief from symptoms commonly occurs within two weeks of beginning light therapy.
There are a few mild side effects reported from light therapy, which include, but are not limited to eyestrain, headaches, irritability and insomnia. Insomnia can also occur if the treatment is taken too late in the day.
There are existing medical conditions that may interfere with light therapy, therefore a doctor should be consulted before starting light therapy, especially where eye problems are present or if medication is is being taken with photosensitivity listed as a side effect. Studies show that light therapy causes no long-term side effects.
Antidepressants Some people do not respond to light therapy and are prescribed antidepressants during the fall and winter months. Some people find that taking an antidepressant in conjunction with lamp therapy provides the best results. Since everyone is different, it is important to talk to your family doctor or mental health professional about your individual treatment plan.
Related Resources and Sites: The Society for Light Treatment and Biological Rhythms— http://www.sltbr.org