Do you struggle with concentration, lethargy or depression each year as winter approaches? If you experience these 3 symptoms each year as winter is approaching then you might suffer from SAD.
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a form of depression that occurs at the same time every year in response to changes in the day/night cycle. SAD typically peaks in the winter months and affects over 10 million people in the US. (Psychology Today)
While SAD is not fully understood, many believe that the problem is related to melatonin, a naturally occurring hormone produced in the pineal gland. As the days grow shorter, we produce more melatonin. Melatonin production helps to regulate our sleep. Ideally, we produce more melatonin at night when it’s time to sleep. For those with SAD, melatonin levels are too high during the day.
How do our melatonin levels get out of wack?
The industrial revolution has messed with our body clock. Not long ago, we slept when it was dark out and awakened when the sun rose. Now, with electric lighting we stay awake late, often to catch our favorite TV show. In the morning we are awakened (after too little sleep) by an alarm clock. Than, we spend our days working indoors and get very little natural light. We are no longer in sink with the sun.
Melatonin levels are also affected by age, stress and menstruation.
What can you do about SAD?
Bright light therapy has been used for decades to regulate melatonin levels and restore your body clock. This is typically done with a light box (high intensity light) for 20- 30 minutes first thing in the morning. It is important for those with cataracts, glaucoma and diabetes to observe precautions. Also, be sure the light box does not expose you to UV wavelengths as this can be problematic.
Diet: People with SAD often have carbohydrate cravings and consume too many sweets and refined, processed foods. Increase your intake of proteins and leafy green vegetables and limit carbohydrates, alcohol and caffeine.
Acupuncture is a wonderful way to reduce stress and regulate hormonal balances. In a recent study at Georgetown University, acupuncture was shown to reduce the production of cortisol, a stress hormone. Acupuncture can also help balance the pituitary, thyroid, ovary and other aspects of the endocrine system.
Exercise is an important component in managing depression. When we exercise, the body produces endorphins, a neurotransmitter that improves mood. For those with SAD, participating in winter sports and outdoor activities can have the added benefits of social interaction and exposure to sunlight.