At this time of year as the days grow darker we often see patients who complain about tiredness, lacking energy and feeling down. These can be a sign that they suffer from Seasonal Affective (or adjustment) Disorder also known as SAD. While most people are able to continue with their everyday activities, in some cases patients might find it more difficult to cope. The good news is that there are some simple things that you can do yourselves to help avoid SAD or at least limit its effects.
What is Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) ?
SAD is essentially a form of depression that occurs in the autumn and winter months and then improves in the spring and summer. Different people will experience different symptoms but they typically include the following:
- A constant feeling of tiredness and wanting to sleep all the time.
- Feeling irritable.
- Feeling lethargic and lacking energy and motivation.
- A persistent low mood.
- Craving carbohydrates (comfort food) and putting on weight.
What are the causes?
We are not sure of the exact causes of SAD but it is thought to be connected to the lower levels of sunlight that we are exposed to in winter. The lack of sunlight effects the function of part of our brain called the hypothalamus. The Hypothalamus controls many important body functions including:
- The body’s internal clock which in turn controls our sleep patterns.
- Production of melatonin. This is a hormone that makes you feel sleepy. It is thought that melatonin levels rise in SAD.
- Serotonin production. This is a hormone that affects your mood, appetite and sleep. It is thought that SAD is related to a drop in serotonin levels.
What to do if you think you may have SAD?
If you are suffering with mild symptoms then the following tips may help relieve them.
1. Expose yourself to as much sunlight as possible. Get out of your house or workplace as much as possible especially on sunny days. Draw curtains and blinds open. Sit near windows where possible.
2. Exercise. Go for a long walk or cycle if possible but all aerobic exercise will boost your mood and energy levels.
3. Adjust your sleep patterns by going to bed a little earlier. This will help to keep your body clock on track and increase the chance of getting a good night’s sleep.
4. Maintain a healthy balanced diet. Avoid the temptation to eat sugary foods and drink coffee to keep you going. Although they help in the short term you will feel more tired when the effects wear off. The intestines actually produce their own serotonin so are important in mood regulation. Vitamin supplements may also help, especially Vitamin D3, Vitamin A and zinc.
5. Consider buying a good SAD light box/lamp. These simulate exposure to sunlight and many SAD suffers find them very helpful.
However, if you are struggling to cope you should consult your GP. They may be able to prescribe appropriate medication or refer you for relevant counselling.
If you would like any further information then please contact us at email@example.com or phone us on 07582 128662
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