What is seasonal affective disorder | Health | Life & Style
SAD can be long, painful and debilitating, and it usually kicks in around this time of year.
Although symptoms can begin as early as autumn, they are generally most severe during December, January and February.
This Sunday sees the clocks go back an hour, plunging the nation into mid-morning and early-evening darkness for months on end.
Express.co.uk spoke to Dr Victoria Revell about how Lumie light therapy can banish the winter blues post clock change – and how to recognise the symptoms of SAD.
What is seasonal affective disorder?
VR: Seasonal affective disorder is an annually recurrent set of symptoms that occur in the winter months when both the duration and brightness of our light environment are reduced. Symptoms may vary, but can include feeling down and depressed, sleep problems, weight gain, anxiety, loss of libido, not interested in getting things done, mood swings and lethargy.
How can you diagnose seasonal affective disorder?
VR: If you experience the symptoms described above during the winter months then you may be suffering from SAD. Winter blues is the milder form of the condition and has been estimated to affect up to 10 million people in the UK
Is it a form of depression? At what point should you consult your GP?
It is a form of depression and if you are experiencing the symptoms described and feel that you may be suffering from SAD then you should consult your GP for medical advice as soon as possible.
Is there a cause of SAD?
The underlying cause of, and factors that predispose certain individuals but not others to develop, SAD continue to be a hot topic of research. However, it is likely that the lack of light in winter months will impact both the circadian body clock and the mood and alertness centres in our brain.
Our circadian body clock does not run at exactly 24 h but instead runs at a little more or a little less. The clock is synchronised to the external 24 hour solar day on a daily basis by light cues; in the majority of people, the circadian clock runs at slightly longer than 24 hours and it is morning light that is important for resetting the clock and stopping it from drifting later each day.
The lack of morning light in the winter months may result in our circadian clock losing track of the 24-hour day which could result in jet lag like symptoms where it is harder to wake up in the morning and you feel sleepy and low during the day.
Light can directly improve our mood and alertness and thus, low level environmental light for an extended amount of time could persistently have a negative effect on the way that we feel.
It is possible that there are individual differences in sensitivity to light which could contribute to certain individuals being predisposed to SAD. In addition, reduced levels of serotonin in the brain during winter months may also contribute to SAD as serotonin is known to be associated with mood.
How can you treat SAD?
VR: SAD can be treated with light therapy. Using light therapy (light box) upon awakening or during the last part of sleep (dawn simulator) has been demonstrated to have very beneficial effects for SAD sufferers. This early morning light will not only help keep the body clock synchronised to the 24 h day but will also boost your mood and ensure you start the day feeling refreshed, awake and ready to go. If you are unable to use a light box then simply going outside for a short walk in the morning when you wake up will increase the amount of light you receive and be of benefit.
Is it guaranteed to come back every year?
VR: It is not guaranteed but if you are predisposed to suffering from SAD then it is likely that you will experience the symptoms each year and should start using light therapy before winter properly sets in.
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