Every winter, as the days go dark, about 5% of Americans suffer from what is called seasonal affective disorder. Tragically referred to as "SAD", the situation is similar to what a bear might experience if he stretched out to hibernate, but he remembered that he had children, races and a full-time job. – and every morning after. Fortunately, interventions for humans are widely available.
Why am I SAD?
Symptoms of seasonal affective disorder are depressive behaviors, but occur only in the winter (or, less frequently, in the summer) instead of throughout the year. You may have trouble getting up in the morning even after a long night of deep sleep. During the day, you may be tired by routine tasks and resist socialization. Your appetite may seem suddenly insatiable. Weight gain is common.
At the chemical level, what triggers these feelings of SAD is poorly understood. Scientists hypothesize that changes in the amount of sunlight available cause hormonal changes, which translate into seasonal depression in some people with certain genetic profiles. In a state like Florida, which is closer to the equator than the rest of the country, only 1% of people report SAD-like symptoms in winter, compared with 9% of Alaskans living in northern latitudes.
Seasonal affective disorder peaks in winter, when sensitive people get sun-dried, but some experts have experienced it in the summer when the rays are almost ubiquitous. "Affected people seem to have disrupted daily (circadian) rhythms," according to the National Institutes of Health. "These people can not change their sleep-wake cycle to match the night-day cycle of winter [or summer] months, resulting in changes in sleep, mood, and behavior. "
Tell me what to do about it!
You can not put the sun to the rendezvous, but we are very close. Light therapy and dawn simulation are two effective strategies for dealing with SAD in winter. More traditional interventions for depression, such as dialogue therapy and prescription antidepressants, may also be helpful, especially in the most severe cases.
Light therapy requires only a broad spectrum light and a little patience. Often referred to as "happy lights", these devices feature white LED light bulbs that are filtered by ultraviolet light. This does not exactly reproduce the sun's rays, but the lamp should be enough to cheer you up. For a more effective procedure, the affected person should sit about two feet away from the lamp each morning, far enough to avoid burning eyes, but close enough to actually absorb the artificial rays. After 10 or 15 minutes of soaking, turn off the light and repeat the next day. Within days, this practice can replace a circadian watch and ease the discomfort of SAD.
People who find no improvement can increase the "dose" to 30 or 45 minutes of broad-spectrum light each day. But it's important not to overdo it. Happy lamps look like light emanating from a phone screen or from a laptop. If you use it later in the day, it could prevent you from sleeping at night, which will unbalance your circadian rhythms. It's not necessarily something to use every day for the rest of your life. A meta-analysis has shown efficacy in treating SAD when administered for two to five weeks during the darkest months.
For people with lighter symptoms, the simulation of dawn could do the trick. These bedside devices replace the aggressive beep of a traditional alarm clock with an intelligent light. If you want to get up at 6:30 in the morning, the dawn simulator will light up 30 minutes in advance and will get brighter and brighter until you wake up, as if the sun were in your room. Studies show that, similar to a happy lamp, it helps reduce the severity of seasonal depression by mimicking the natural processes that your body understands.
These strategies can help people deal with the worst of the winter blues, even if more is not always better. Studies show that light therapy and dawn simulation are not effective for people already on antidepressants, suggesting that there is a decreasing point of return with SAD treatments. That is why it is important to talk to your doctor: to determine the severity of your symptoms and what is the right intervention for you.