This Winter, Be on the Lookout for SAD

By StGeorgesUniversity
February 21, 2017

It may be over 80 degrees in Grenada, but in many parts of the world, winter is a season of gloomy days and chilly weather. And for many, such dreary conditions can cause emotional challenges — specifically for those suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD.

The condition is a type of depression or bipolar disorder that affects people in the fall and winter months.[1] By one estimate, approximately 5 percent of the American population experiences seasonal depression, the vast majority of these patients are women.[2]

People suffering from SAD might experience a variety of symptoms, including general depression, extreme shifts in mood, food cravings, and overeating.[3] Others will feel tired or unrested more often — even after a full night’s sleep. Indeed, recent brain studies suggest that SAD decreases the efficiency of sleep.[4]

Although no single cause for SAD has been identified, there are several factors that contribute to the condition. First, reduced exposure to sunlight in the fall and winter can affect levels of serotonin and melatonin. Low levels of serotonin have been demonstrated to correlate with depression, which may explain why the symptoms are similar.[5] Melatonin is a hormone that helps regulate sleep patterns and mood. When the days are darker, melatonin production in our bodies increases, which can affect circadian rhythms.[6]

Fortunately, there are ways to treat the condition, starting with phototherapy, or “light therapy.” With this treatment, a patient sits in front a special “light box” each day to suppress the body’s production of melatonin.[7] In severe cases, doctors may prescribe antidepressant drugs to combat the symptoms of SAD.

So if you feel particularly glum or lethargic this winter, the weather outside might be the reason. And for those truly struggling in the cold-weather months, know that help is available — just ask your doctor.

[1] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26994750

[2] http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/pnp.173/pdf

[3] http://medind.nic.in/iaa/t13/i12/iaat13i12p607.pdf

[4] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8064650

[5] http://www.bu.edu/writingprogram/journal/past-issues/issue-5/mcclenathan/

[6] http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/seasonal-affective-disorder/basics/definition/con-20021047

[7] http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/pnp.173/pdf

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