Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that has a seasonal pattern.
These episodes tend to occur in the autumn and winter months and it is thought SAD is the brains response to darker days and shortening of daylight hours. Studies have found SAD prevalent in people who live further from the equator, theories suggest sunlight plays a role in the brains production of key chemicals melatonin and serotonin.
Melatonin is the sleep hormone, the light dictates how much melatonin our bodies produce.
On brighter days we make less and on darker days our bodies ramp up synthesis the melatonin hence we sleep more during winter.
Serotonin is produced in the pineal gland and intestines, it affects mood, appetite, and sleep, also known as the happiness molecule and is a known contributor to feelings of well being.
There are many symptoms related to SAD such as feeling stressed, irritability, increased sleep, low moods, reduced libido,tearfulness, lethargy, increased appetite leading to weight gain as well as social withdrawal.
SAD is more common in women than men, however men tend to suffer more symptoms. It is more common in young adults and in people who live further from the equator ( thus decreasing temperature and daylight hours)
Diagnosing SAD is usually when a person has suffered at least 5 symptoms for two consecutive winters but shows no signs during spring and summer seasons as well as no external factors such as medication side effects, drug or alcohol misuse or physical conditions such as an under active thyroid.
There are a some treatments to help the effects of SAD that include the following
Light treatment: Many people notice an improvement in symptoms within 3-4 days however it can take up to 4-6 weeks and while it may not work for everyone it is thought that around 8 in 10 people with SAD improve with the help of light therapy.
Taking Melatonin (available on prescription in ROI)
Cognitive behavioural therapy
Some tips and tricks for reducing the risk of getting SAD include: regular aerobic exercises, taking winter breaks or holidays, avoiding staying up late, go outside as much as possible.