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Shedding Light on SAD
By Shannon Morehouse, MA, CHHC

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that can severely impair your life. Symptoms of SAD begin with the shift from autumn to winter and include feelings of depression, hopelessness, and angst, loss of energy, uncontrollable appetite, difficulty waking up in the morning, loss of interest in your favorite activities, irritability, loss of interest in physical contact or sex, and weight gain. Problems may worsen as winter progresses, and may dissipate when spring finally arrives.

SAD, a term coined by U.S. doctor Norman E. Rosenthal in 1984, should be taken seriously because it is a form of clinical depression. Doctors and researchers believe that the culprits of SAD can be one or more of the following: a disruption in your body's circadian rhythm, increased levels of melatonin, or decreased levels of serotonin. With the reduced sunlight during the winter months, your body's circadian rhythm (your internal clock that lets you know when to sleep and wake) may become offset, which often results in depression. Because your melatonin (a sleep-related hormone) levels may increase in the long nights of winter, you may experience depression from oversleeping. And drops in serotonin (sometimes referred to as the good mood hormone) may also cause depression.

The most clinically proven method for treating SAD is "light therapy." Light therapy involves using full-spectrum light boxes or bulbs specifically designed for people with mild to severe symptoms of SAD. They mimic outdoor light, prompting a biochemical change in your brain that uplifts your mood. The box or bulb should provide 5,000-10,000 lux of illumination (the average domestic or office lights emits only 200-500 lux) at a comfortable sitting distance. Full-spectrum lights effectively treat SAD by balancing your melatonin and serotonin levels

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