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Sachin Mehta, MD, a psychiatrist with Belmont Behavioral Health who specializes in treating people with depression and other mood disorders, offers this information about Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD):Sunday, November 3rd at 2 a.m. was the official end to Daylight Savings Time for 2013 which meant we turned the clocks back an hour. The good news is we gained an extra hour of sleep; the not-so-good news is that the end of Daylight Savings Time means there will be a significant reduction in the amount of natural sunlight people experience during the day. For some, this decrease in sunlight can lead to Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), also called “Winter Depression” or “Winter Blues.” People who wake up in the morning and leave for work or school before the sun comes up and return home at the end of the day when it’s dark, may be at higher risk for SAD. What is SAD?SAD is a form of major depression that occurs during the fall and winter months when exposure to natural sunlight is significantly reduced and goes away in the spring when there’s increased sunlight. Symptoms of SAD are many of the symptoms people with depression experience: sadness, anxiety, loss of interest in usual activities, withdrawal from social activities, an inability to concentrate, and increased sleeping. There is an association between melatonin, a sleep-related hormone secreted by the pineal gland in the brain and SAD. Melatonin, which may cause symptoms of depression, is produced at increased levels in the dark, so when the days are shorter and darker, the production of melatonin increases. Suggestions for Preventing and Treating SAD:Get a medical evaluation. A medical professional can rule out illnesses such as hypoglycemia or hypothyroidism that can look like SAD. Spend an hour outdoors each day walking at a brisk pace, even on cloudy days, and even if it’s really cold out. If you can, aim to be outdoors mid-day when the sun is at its highest point and is the most effective. Exercise at least 30 minutes a day, three times a week or more. Regular physical activity helps reduce depression and fatigue. If possible, find an outdoor sport or hobby that you can enjoy during the winter months. Eat a healthy diet in order to get sufficient amounts of essential vitamins and minerals. People with SAD crave sweets and starches, so try to keep protein in your diet as a balance.Maintain your regular activities, including interacting with family and friends. Social contact and support is very important when experiencing depression. Increase your daily intake of Vitamin D. A minimum of 400 IUs per day are recommended. Talk to a medical professional about taking higher doses during the time of year when you have SAD symptoms. Open curtains and blinds at home and in your office to let in as much natural light as possible. Sit near a window when you can, preferably in the sun. Consider Light Box Therapy which mimics outdoor light. Researchers believe this type of light causes a chemical change in the brain that lifts a person’s mood and eases other symptoms of SAD. Most people use light boxes for a minimum of 30 minutes each morning. Light box therapy can be effective on its own, or more effective when combined with another SAD treatment, such as an antidepressant medication or psychological counseling. Consult with a medical professional when choosing a light box so you get one that best meets your needs.
Maintain a regular sleep schedule. Avoid sleeping in or going to bed too early.