Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a type of winter depression which affects millions of people between September and April and in particular during December, January, and February. SAD is believed to be related to a biochemical imbalance in the hypothalamus due to the shortening of daylight hours and the lack of sunlight in winter.
For many people, SAD is a seriously disabling disease, which prevents them from acting normally without any normal medical treatment. For others, it is a milder condition, referred to as sub-syndromal SAD. Or winter blues, that causes discomfort. There is also a rare form of SAD, known as summer SAD. In which symptoms occur each summer and go into remission in winter. Here you know about Yoga – Everything that you want to know.
Seasonal Affective Disorder Symptoms
- A desire to oversleep and difficulty staying awake, but in some cases awakening early in the morning
- Feeling fatigued and unable to carry out normal routines
- Craving for carbohydrates and sweet foods, usually resulting in weight gain
- Feelings of misery, guilt and loss of self-esteem, sometimes hopelessness and despair, sometimes apathy and loss of feelings
- Irritability and desire to avoid social contact
- Tension and inability to tolerate stress
- Decreased interest in sex and physical contact
- Extremes of mood and short periods of hypomania (overactivity) in spring and autumn, in some people
SAD symptoms usually disappear in spring, either suddenly within a few weeks of hypomania/hyperactivity, depending on the intensity of sunlight in the spring/early summer. In summer, symptoms of SAD can be related to excessive heat rather than light and may include irritability and lethargy rather than overeating and oversleeping. SAD may begin at any age, but the onset usually is ages 18-30. Here you know about Avascular Necrosis – Symptoms and Causes.
How common is Seasonal Affective Disorder?
Between 4 and 6 percent of the U.S. population suffers from SAD, while 10 to 20 percent may suffer from a milder form of winter blues. Three-quarters of sufferers are women, most of whom are in their 20s, 30s, and 40s. Although SAD is the most common during these ages, it can also be done in children and adolescents. Older adults are less likely to experience SAD.
What causes Seasonal Affective Disorder?
The exact cause of this condition is not known. One theory is that with the decrease in exposure to sunlight. The biological clock which controls the mood, sleep and hormones are delayed. And is running more slowly in winter. Exposure to light may reset the biological clock.
Another theory is that brain chemicals that transmit information between nerves, called neurotransmitters (e.g., serotonin). May be altered in individuals with SAD, it is believed that these imbalances can be cured by exposure to light.
The master biological clock
A small cluster of brain cells (neurons) dubbed the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN), has been identified as the probable site where our internal biological clocks are synchronized. The SCN is in a position to coordinate the rhythms of our inner world with the rhythm of the light-dark cycle in the outer world.
SCN eventually sends information to a small gland at the base of the brain called the pineal gland in which the hormone melatonin is produced. The amount of light seems to determine how much pineal melatonin is actually released from the pineal and secreted into the bloodstream. The more light, the more release is suppressed. The less light, the more melatonin the blood carries. Light suppresses melatonin release.
What does that mean for the changing seasons?
During those seasons when the photoperiods are long, in spring and summer, melatonin secretion is at its lowest since it can only be secreted at a significant rate during the relatively fewer hours of darkness. On the other hand, the closer we move toward the winter solstice. The fewer hours of light there is each day and, correspondingly. The longer period of time each day for melatonin to be released into the bloodstream.
What does melatonin do?
One result found over and over again is that melatonin indirectly causes body temperature to drop, which could contribute to a loss of pep, loss of energy, with sluggishness and perhaps with eventual depression.
Tips for avoiding the winter blahs, blues, or SAD
- Pay attention to your moods and energy levels. If you realize that your spirits begin to sink at the end of summer, take pre-emptive action.
- Plan active events for yourself in advance of the fall.
- Expose yourself to as much bright light as you can. If it is a sunny day, go outside as much as you can. If it is grey and overcast, use as much light indoors as you can.
- Be physically active and start your physical activity before you get blows.
- Try to establish a mental set that will help you to enjoy the wintertime.
- If you feel yourself sinking and realize you are losing control, don’t feel ashamed or try to hide it. Seek competent professional help.
A number of treatments exist for SAD including:
- Light therapies
- Ionized-air reception
- Cognitive therapy
If your doctor suggests you try light therapy, you may use a specially made Lightbox or a light hood that you wear on your head like a hat. Generally, due to the decline in light therapy and during winter, it takes about 30 minutes each day, when you are most depressed. If light therapy helps, continue using it until sunlight is available. Stopping light therapy too soon can allow the symptoms to come back…
Tanning beds shouldn’t be used to treat SAD. The light sources in tanning beds are high in ultraviolet rays, which may harm both your eyes and your skin.
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