SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder)
As I write this, actually outside it is one of those lovely cold crisp sunny Autumn days, but for some this time of year causes SAD, or Seasonal Affective Disorder.
As the days get darker and shorter, there is less light. No one quite knows why the amount of light we get really affects our moods, but we all know it does! How much better do you feel on a sunny bright day than a grey dull overcast one?
Why Does It Happen?
In simple terms, experts think that light affects how much melatonin and serotonin we make. These are brain chemicals if you like that help control how good we feel. I always think of serotonin as the ‘feel good chemical’ and it is this chemical that antidepressants like Prozac or Citalopram are designed to boost.
Melatonin is produced by the pineal gland, which is a gland the size of a pea at the base of the brain. As the sun goes down at night, this little gland starts producing tiny amounts of melatonin – it’s like a cue to start getting sleepy. As light dawns, the gland gradually stops producing it, and hence we start to wake up.
What is thought to happen in some people is that their pineal gland continues to produce melatonin as they aren’t getting enough light for them to switch it off. Hence, you feel lethargic, fuzzy and not really firing on all cylinders.
This pineal gland also produces serotonin, the feel good brain chemical. It is known that we produce less serotonin in Winter than we do in Summer, and that the amount we make is directly related to the amount of light we have available.
So, just imagine, if you are person who naturally produces a bit less serotonin anyway (this is very common in women) and along comes a long dark Autumn and Winter – BANG! You’re not exactly going to feel in tip top condition, are you?
What Are The Symptoms?
The most common symptoms of SAD include lethargy, sleep problems, comfort or over eating (especially of chocolate as this helps us produce serotonin – now you know!), loss of libido and social confidence, and low mood.
It has even been linked to PMS, is pretty common in children and teenagers and often people turn to feel-good substances like alcohol, chocolate, caffeine etc.
What Can I Do?
If you think this might be a problem, what do you do? Simple. Try to get more light and boost your serotonin levels. You could get yourself a light box, a light cap you can wear around the house, or invest in full spectrum lighting (we had this at the Purehealth Clinic in Uppermill). It can make a huge difference and is like sitting in daylight.
Get out and about – have a walk around the park, tidy your garden or walk the dog. Sit near big clean windows if indoors.
To boost your serotonin levels, try Higher Nature Serotone or Positive Outlook. (Check for contraindications and do not use if you are on antidepressants and please use my name Micki Rose when ordering if this factsheet is helping you, thanks.)
These are wonderful supplements for most people and helps you make your own natural serotonin. It is great for lifting your mood, helping you to sleep and controlling food cravings. It’s not expensive and you should know within a week or so whether it is going to help you. Always follow the instructions and don’t use it if you are on any anti-depressants – if you need advice, check with me or your local health professional.
How Does Light Therapy Work?
You should check the exact instructions of anything you buy, but generally you sit in front of a 10,000 lux light box designed to deliver a specific type and strength of light much like a sunny day.
You need to sit about 20-40 inches away from it for about 15-45 minutes on a regular basis, glancing at the light regularly, although you can easily read a book or magazine at the same time. It normally takes 3 or 4 days in a row for the effect to start and then you need to use it most days for a while and be guided by how you feel.
As soon as you start to feel lethargic or low again, have a few sessions. The very best time to have a session is in the morning. If mornings are your worst time, use a dawn simulator alarm clock. This gradually brightens over 30 minutes to bright light and stimulates the normal waking process. It is important to start in September before symptoms begin.
Who Should Use Light Therapy?
Anyone who feels lethargic or depressed in the darker months, those with SAD (seasonal affective disorder), those who have sleep problems such as oversleeping, unrefreshed after sleep, napping in the afternoon or can’t get up, shift workers, those who overeat and crave carbohydrates more in the darker months, those with PMS or jet lag.