Seasonal Affective Disorder & How To Treat It
It’s September. The kids are back in school and fall is right around the corner. The amount of daylight in a 24 hour period is on the decline. This has been happening since June 21, but soon we will really notice how early the sun sets, especially when we “fall back” from daylight time to standard time. Grayer days are on the way, too, making the light seem even dimmer.
If you are reading this and worrying about how you are going to be feeling soon, you are not alone. Many people experience feelings of lethargy and depression in the darker winter months, and the farther north you live the more likely you are to succumb to the effects of what is commonly known as Seasonal Affective Disorder. Symptoms of SAD include: afternoon slumps with decreased energy and concentration, carbohydrate cravings, decreased interest in work and other activities, increased appetite with weight gain, increased daytime drowsiness and sluggishness, lack of energy, social withdrawal, and increased irritability.
What can you do to combat the symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder?
First and foremost, speak with your healthcare provider about any symptoms of depression that you may be experiencing. He or she can best decide with you on any needed course of action.
Vitamins You Always Need
Vitamin D is essential, and you should have your vitamin D level checked with your other blood tests to determine what the correct dose of Vitamin D is for you. Fish oil is essential for brain health—it helps with cardiovascular health as well. Take 1-2 of the Orthomega Fish Oil capsules daily. Other helpful supplements include our melatonin supplement to help with sleep. This is safe and non-habit-forming for both children and adults.
Supplements We Often Recommend for S.A.D.
5-HTP is a supplement with a compound that gets converted into serotonin in the brain. As noted above, serotonin is one of the body’s principle neurotransmitters involved with happiness and anti-depression.
We also carry Phosphatidylserine supplement. Phosphatidylserine is a type of fat found in every cell of the human body, but most concentrated in brain tissue. It enables the brain to use glucose more efficiently. Glucose is fuel for the brain, and when the brain has better access to fuel, it thinks better. This can help to reduce anxiety and depression. Phosphatidylserine also balances cortisol levels. Cortisol levels should peak in the morning and gradually decrease until evening. Unbalanced cortisol can cause weight gain, cravings for sugary, fatty foods, and increased insulin levels.
Another important component of combating Seasonal Affective Disorder is light. Sunlight has been used for years for healing purposes since the time of the Ancient Greeks when Hippocrates (the father of modern medicine) prescribed sunlight as therapy for multiple illnesses. Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, bright light was considered to be the most curative prescription for some mood disorders. Before World War II, hospitals were built with a sunroom, known as a Solarium, where patients could recuperate in the sunlight. Since the 1980’s light therapy has been widely recognized by the medical community as an effective treatment for SAD.
Light therapy is also used to treat insomnia and jet lag. It tends to work faster than antidepressants, beginning to alleviate symptoms of depression in approximately 2-14 days. Unlike antidepressant medicines, which can cause multiple side effects, light therapy is extremely well-tolerated. Light is thought to act to re-adjust the body’s internal clock (Circadian Rhythm). It is also thought to trigger production of serotonin.
It is best to not use light therapy after 8 pm, as it will interfere with sleep. Patients with eye problems or who take photosensitizing medicines that can make you get burned or get a rash when exposed to sunlight—antibiotics are one example—should consult their physician before using light therapy.
There are many light therapy boxes available. Verilux makes several different models, and the Verilux Happy Light is very popular and a reasonable cost. The Aurora Light Pad by Alaska Northern Lights is another option. Check out Amazon or Walmart, as they have a number of different options at different prices. Patients who are just starting light therapy may need to adjust the duration of exposure. Most light therapy boxes come with instructions as to length of time to expose yourself to the light.
There are also now Light Alarm Clocks available. These lights simulate sunrise, gradually increasing the light 30 minutes before your alarm goes off in the morning. This helps you wake up gently and ease you out of REM sleep instead of having a jarring noise wake you up suddenly in a still-dark room. Again, there are quite a number of different models available, and the reviews of these wake-up lights are positive.
Building Habits for a Great Life
Try to get into a routine of getting at least 60 minutes of exercise daily. Find a sport or activity that you at least don’t hate, and make it a priority. Find a buddy to walk with, join a gym, or take a class. Find some good music to listen to when you are exercising or talk with your buddy. Social connection with friends can make a huge difference in your feelings of well-being. Exercise stimulates your body to release endorphins, which are the chemicals that your body makes that give you good feelings, decreasing pain, and sometimes even causing euphoria. You will sleep better at night if you get regular exercise.
Get enough QUALITY sleep.
Don’t drink alcohol, especially before bed. It may relax you, but it interferes with REM sleep, keeping you in only light stages of sleep during the night. Also most people wake up in the middle of the night when the effects of the alcohol have worn off. Not getting enough quality sleep interferes with your body’s ability to manufacture serotonin, which is a neurotransmitter that sends messages between cells and is thought to contribute to feelings of happiness and well-being. Take a nap if you are sleepy, but try not to nap after 3:00 pm or it will be harder to fall asleep at night. You should shut off all screens—phones, computers, tablets, TVs—at least 2 hours before bed. The blue light from these screens interferes with your body’s ability to manufacture melatonin, the hormone responsible for helping us to fall asleep and stay asleep.
Fuel your body with healthy foods.
Have at least 5 servings of organic fruits and vegetables a day. One serving size is about the size of the palm of your hand. Eat high quality organic protein. Try to limit intake of processed foods and excess sugar and other carbohydrates.
Excell’s high-quality vitamins and supplements are fantastic help in supporting your brain and immune system through seasonal changes.
Sleep well, wake well, and be well.
Blessings to you,