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Your Healthy Family: Shorter days can spell winter blues

Posted at 7:59 AM, Nov 05, 2018
and last updated 2018-11-05 09:59:46-05

CLEVELAND, OHIO – As we creep closer to winter, many of us notice our evenings getting darker, quicker.

But according to Mirica Sanders, D.O. of Cleveland Clinic, there’s a difference between winter blues and ‘Seasonal Affective Disorder’ or ‘SAD.’

“It’s more than just the winter blues; it’s characterized by two weeks or more of depressed mood,” she said. “You have symptoms such as disturbances in your sleep, loss of interest, decreased energy, no motivation, and changes in your appetite. Usually in seasonal affective disorder you see an increase in appetite and a lot of women and men notice weight gain during these winter months.”

Dr. Sanders said those who experience ‘SAD’ also have a tendency to withdraw from social occasions and some even have thoughts of hopelessness or worthlessness.

She said previous research has shown women tend to experience ‘SAD’ four times more often than men.

Those who are impacted by ‘SAD’ tend to experience symptoms between the ages of 18-30.

When the days get shorter and we have less sunlight, Dr. Sanders said an over-production of melatonin can contribute to people feeling tired and having less energy.

Likewise, people with ‘SAD’ have difficulty regulating serotonin, which is the brain chemical that is responsible for balancing mood.

For those who find themselves unable to shake depressive feelings during the change in seasons, Dr. Sanders suggests seeking the help of a health professional.

She said it’s important not to ignore seasonal depressive symptoms or chalk them up as ‘holiday stress,’ as ‘SAD’ is actually a type of major depressive disorder that needs attention and treatment.

There are medications, cognitive therapies, and other methods, such as light therapy that can make a real difference.

Bright light therapy is a treatment for Seasonal Affective Disorder

“Bright light therapy is a treatment for Seasonal Affective Disorder and this is just a particular type of light that one person can sit in front of for about 20-60 minutes a day, in the morning, to get that boost of energy,” said Dr. Sanders.