SAD: ‘Seasonal Affective Disorder’
Ever noticed that during winter a lot of us put on weight, find it hard to wake up, lack energy and often feel blue? Well it’s all very normal… and it has something to do with the sun…well, lack of it actually.
SAD – stands for Seasonal Affective Disorder – a disorder that’s most common in winter when the days are short and we’re exposed to less light. In fact, the further south you live, the more likely you are to suffer from it (less sunlight the further south you go in winter).
Symptoms of SAD are: depression, lethargy, fatigue, cravings for junk food, headaches, sleep problems and being irritable. Symptoms start in Autumn, then reach their peak during the winter months. By spring most of us start to come right. Interestingly up to 80% of those who suffer from SAD are female and usually it starts when you reach your 30’s – although it’s unclear why.
Researchers are investigating why bright light can lift depression. I know that personally, if I’m feeling down at night, flicking on some lights instantly makes me feel better. It’s perhaps the same reason young children like night lights… there’s a comfort and warmth that comes from particular lighting. You can even get light therapy…where light is exposed to certain parts of your body. Like most health treatments it needs to be regular (just like exercising and dieting) and not just a one off thing. Also, I’m no doctor…so investigate properly if you think about trying it!
Of course another downside of winter are those dark mornings…can make waking up really difficult. This is another symptom of SAD. Some find it helpful to have the light turn on just before they are supposed to wake up. Some people like to use a Dawn Simulator – that’s a bright light that is programmed to gradually increase its intensity so that it reaches its full intensity a set period before you are scheduled to wake up. Sounds nuts huh?! Sometimes I sleep with my curtains open…but at this time of year I need to sleep in to appreciate a “light” wake up!
There has been a study showing improvement in SAD symptoms when individuals take a one-hour daily walk outside. Even on a cloudy or wet day, the sunlight is still strong enough to have a positive affect on your mood.
If it’s dark when you leave for work and arrive home then make the most of your lunch breaks – get outside and take a walk. Or just find somewhere sheltered and have your lunch. Turn the lights on at home, eat well, exercise and get as much daylight as possible – because if it helps ease the winter blues, it’ll be well worth it.