By Cara Murez
Health Day Reporter
MONDAY, November 7, 2022 (HealthDay News) — As daylight hours dwindle, people’s spirits can tank.
Rest assured you are not alone. It’s SAD season for those afflicted with seasonal depression. This is the depression, fatigue, and withdrawal that shorter days and longer nights often bring.
“The seasonal mood swing can come in a variety of forms,” said Dr. Dorothy Sit, associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago.
“It can be a clinical diagnosis of depression, which we call SAD, but some people experience a milder form,” Sit said. “The clinical diagnosis means it’s quite intense; It affects people throughout the day for many weeks and can affect their function. In milder cases, people can feel a bit bland but can pull through. Still, functioning will feel a bit more difficult.”
In addition to feeling sluggish, people may feel hungrier, crave carbohydrates, eat more, and gain weight. You may also feel less motivated and enjoy activities less.
“This is a form of depression that naturally repeats itself; it begins every fall and winter and occurs every spring and summer,” Sit said in a Northwestern Medicine press release.
An important remedy for SAD is to start the day with light therapy. Sit recommends a device that produces 10,000 LUX of white light to be used in the 30 minutes after waking up.
“The treatment elevates mood, improves a person’s ability to function, and can completely eliminate their symptoms,” she noted. “It’s even effective for non-seasonal depression, depression in pregnancy, and in certain people with bipolar depression.”
Sit emphasizes that it is important to use the bright light under the guidance of a doctor or clinician. He or she can help identify any side effects or problems that may arise and discuss alternatives if needed.
“Light from the sun (sunlight) is the primary regulator that provides the signal for our body’s circadian rhythms,” Sit said. “Low exposure to light can interfere with this. Bright light therapy is used in a way that enhances our circadian rhythm, which appears to improve our mood. Timing the light so that exposure occurs first thing in the morning can have a greater effect in regulating our rhythm. We are still trying to fully understand how this mechanism works.”
People can also fight the winter blues by staying active. This can be hikes with the family or exploring nature. They can play sports, learn a new skill, or visit a museum.
It is also important to maintain a regular sleep-wake cycle. Naps should only be 20 to 30 minutes long, so don’t oversleep, sitting is recommended.
The US National Institute of Mental Health has more on Seasonal Affective Disorder.
SOURCE: Northwestern Medicine, press release, November 4, 2022