Winter's been long. The days are still too short, the nights long and you're feeling blue. No matter how many hours you sleep, you still wake up tired. You're irritable and have poor concentration.
What's more, you're eating too much, craving carbs, and packing on the pounds. If this sounds like you, you may be suffering from seasonal affective disorder (SAD.)
According to the University of Iowa Department of Psychiatry, SAD often begins to show up in people in their early to mid-20s, and usually affects more women than men.
The best treatment for SAD is light therapy, either with lights specifically tailored for phototherapy, or with 4-lamp fluorescent light fixtures. But sometimes, a brisk walk in morning sunlight can be just as effective as a light box.
If you have SAD, and want to try light therapy, it's ideal to begin with 10- to 15-minute light sessions, and gradually increase to average 30 to 45 minutes a day, university health officials say.
Despite light therapy, if you're still feeling down in the dumps, speak to your doctor.
Bringing more natural light into our daily lives may be more important for our health than we realize.
According to WebMD Medical News, our mood is influenced by a complex web of relationships among sunlight, melatonin (the sleep hormone) and serotonin (the hormone associated with wakefulness and elevated mood). As darkness falls, our melatonin levels naturally increase. And as the morning light emerges, melatonin levels decrease.
Serotonin levels increase when we are exposed to bright light - a major reason why moods tend to be more elevated during the summer. This hormone is the basis of today's most popular and successful antidepressant drugs, called selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SSRIs). These drugs work by helping naturally produced serotonin stay in the blood stream longer, keeping our mood and energy levels higher.
Some researchers are concluding that light therapy may help to alleviate SAD symptoms faster than antidepressant drugs. In a review of clinical trials of light therapy, Dr. Daniel Kripke and his colleagues at the University of California, San Diego reported that light therapy benefits not only SAD patients but also people suffering from other forms of depression. Approximately 11 million people are diagnosed with this disorder. There is even a form of sad called "summer depression," in which the severe depressive episode begins in late spring to early summer.
Symptoms of SAD may include:
* increased sleep and daytime drowsiness
* fatigue, or low energy level
* decreased sex drive
* diminished concentration
* difficulty thinking clearly
* increased appetite, especially for sweets and carbohydrates causing weight gain
Consult a physician if symptoms of depression become too strong or linger too long.
And if nothing else, take comfort in the fact that spring sunshine is only a bit over six weeks away. Hang in there!