Now that the winter is drawing in on us and the sun makes a much rarer sighting than even a month ago, many of us are noticing some symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). SAD is actually a form of depression following a seasonal pattern, most commonly noticeable from late autumn or early winter until spring is here again. The exact cause of SAD is not yet fully understood, but according to the latest scientific understanding, it is thought the lack of sunlight affects a part of our brain called the hypothalamus.
In brief, SAD sufferers have hypothalamic changes which result in three key consequences:
Lower levels of the hormone, serotonin (nicknamed as our mood stabiliser) are produced. Low serotonin affects our mood, appetite and sleep and is linked to feelings of depression.
Higher levels of the hormone melatonin, which function is to make us feel sleepy. Hence why melatonin is often prescribed to treat short-term sleep problems.
Disruption in the circadian rhythm. Waking up in the dark, rather than naturally by light may be disrupting our body clock, leading to symptoms of SAD.
Symptoms of SAD may vary from very mild to severe and one should not hesitate to contact their GP if they are feeling depressed. As well as persistent low mood and loss of interest or pleasure in usually enjoyable activities, symptoms may vary from irritability or feeling stressed and anxious to fatigue and increased sleep or even certain food cravings and weight gain. Increased sleep and still feeling lethargic or sleepy during the day are also well-known symptoms of SAD.
There are things you can try for yourself if you are feeling blue this winter, such as assessing your lifestyle. Are you getting enough natural sunlight? For many of us the answer is no and that could be a good place to start. Head out for a walk during your lunch break and add a few shorter breaks outside during the day if possible. Regular exercise can also be helpful and is encouraged throughout the year.
Light therapy is also worth a try. Here a special lamp is used to simulate natural sunlight. Fancier lamps have a function to increase or reduce the amount of lighting depending on the time of the day. Doing this, mimics what our bodies would do naturally, as if waking up to a sunrise. Just make sure not to use the bright light close to bedtime or you may struggle with falling asleep. These lights are readily available to purchase online or in high street shops.
For more stubborn cases of SAD, it may be necessary to introduce medication or talking therapies. Please don’t hesitate to speak to your chiropractor if you are having symptoms of seasonal affective disorder – our clinic is always on hand to offer advice.