It doesn't take many days of sunsets at 7:50 p.m. for my own mild SAD to kick in. Even though the daytime temperatures are still hitting the 80s, I'm pulling out the wool throws and thinking about making a vat of mac and cheese. This is a common response as we head into Fall. Most of us occasionally suffer from the "Winter Blues," but SAD or Seasonal Affective Disorder is more than that.
According to Mental Health America (formerly National Mental Health Association) , a diagnosis of Seasonal Affective Disorder can be made after 3 consecutive winters of the following symptoms if they are followed by complete remission of those symptoms in the spring and summer months:
- Mood changes: extremes of mood and in some, periods of mania in spring and summer
- Sleep problems: desire to oversleep and difficulty staying awake or disturbed sleep and early morning awakening
- Overeating: craving for starchy and sweet foods resulting in weight gain
- Social problems: irritability and desire to avoid social contact
- Sexual problems: decreased libido and decreased interest in physical contact
SAD may be a result of seasonal light variation. As seasons change, there isThere has also been research linking the sleep-related hormone, melatonin to SAD. Results of some of these findings can be found on NIMH's (National Institute of Mental Health) site.
a shift in our "biological internal clock" or circadian rhythm due partly to
these changes in sunlight patterns. This can cause our biological clock to
be out of step with our daily schedules.
An excellent resource, for both health professionals and lay people is Winter Blues: Seasonal Affective Disorder: What Is It and How to Overcome It by Norman E. Rosenthal, MD. Dr. Rosenthal explores several treatment options, including the most popular, light therapy, but also herbal, vitamin and antidepressant options.
Light therapy is usually recommended, utilizing a 10,000 lux light box, which contains fluorescent light tubes covered with a plastic screen blocking ultraviolet rays. The Cleveland Clinic offers a more extensive exploration of light therapy for SAD. This article also has a list of sources for light boxes.
The model shown is from goLITE.
Most cases of SAD are mild to moderate. But with any possible diagnoses, if you believe you are experiencing symptoms of SAD, you should see your doctor or a mental health professional. Many of the symptoms of SAD can also be indicators of a more severe depression or other disorder.