Say “Ah” – Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
Donna Patrick, Associate Nurse Practitioner / Contributor
Q: Since we turned the clocks back a couple of weeks ago I just can’t seem to “wake up.” I’m so tired all the time. This happens to me every year at about this time.
A: It is possible you may be experiencing seasonal affective disorder, also known as SAD. It is a form of depression that usually begins in the late fall and goes away in spring and summer. I often hear this from students after daylight savings time ends.
Q: What are the symptoms of SAD?
– Sleep more than usual
– Have a bigger appetite than usual, especially for sweet or starchy foods, like pastries or rice
– Gain weight
– Become cranky or irritable
– Have trouble with relationships, especially if you feel like you are being rejected
– Feel as though your arms and legs are weighted down or filled with lead
Q: I have a lot of these symptoms. What can I do about them?
– Some people feel better if they exercise. Even if you do not feel like it, try to do something active for at least 30 minutes on most days of the week.
– Make sure you get exposed to as much outside light as possible, especially around noon. Even if it is cold outside dress in warm layers and go out anyway! As little as 10 minutes a day can be beneficial. Norwegians, who live at the same latitude as Alaskans, have lower rates of SAD than we do. They believe it is because they get outside a lot despite the cold temperatures. A saying of theirs is “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing.”
– Take walks outside during the day so that you get some sun.
– In your bedroom, put a lamp on a timer and have it turn on in the early morning, even before the sun comes out.
– Get a “dawn-simulating” lamp, which brightens gradually and turns on before the sun comes out.
– Take a vitamin D supplement. Not much research is available on whether or not low vitamin
D levels are related to SAD. However, there is evidence that people who have depression have low levels of vitamin D. Levels of this vitamin are often low in people who live in northern latitudes due to the lack of sunshine in the winter months.
– Light therapy – Light therapy involves sitting in front of a special, bright lamp during the day which has 10,000 lux. We loan out SAD lights for a two-week time period. Make an appointment to see one of our health care providers for a short visit so we can assess you for SAD and give you instructions for light use. Most people have a good response within a few days. Some may take up to two weeks before symptoms diminish.
– Medications for depression can be considered if the above doesn’t work.
– Counseling with Cognitive behavioral therapy.