Seasonal Affective Disorder

Dr. Tieraona Low Dog

Seasonal Affective Disorder is a condition that is characterized by a certain set of symptoms caused by the short days and long nights of winter. Find out ways to combat the symptoms with this quick video.

— Tieraona Low Dog, M.D.

Winter is just around the corner. The days are getting shorter, the nights are longer and colder. Something that affects about one to three percent of the population this time of year is called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). It is a condition that is characterized by a specific set of symptoms. People with SAD: 1) Have an increased craving for carbohydrates 2) Gain weight 3) Increased irritability 4) More fatigue 5) Depressed mood


Treatment Options for Seasonal Affective Disorder

 If this is something that’s been affecting you, there are two treatments that may be very useful for you. The first is bright light therapy. Bright light therapy has been shown to be almost three times more effective than pharmaceutical medications for the alleviation of SAD. Most of the time these bright lights are white lights, but there’s a growing number using blue lights. Bright lights are generally used in the morning. The amount of time that you’re going to be in front of the bright light box depends upon the strength. 10,000 lux will be 30 minutes. 5,000 lux, 45 minutes, and 2,500 lux, generally one hour. It’s important to remember that you are not just sitting and staring into the lights. The bright lights are sort of off to the side while you’re eating breakfast or reading a book. If you’re having a problem falling asleep, bright light therapy used early in the morning. 6:00‑7:00 o’clock AM will very likely help improve your sleep and fatigue. (While bright light therapy is safe for most people, it can be too stimulating for those with bipolar and may not be appropriate for those with eye disease. In either of these cases, make sure you talk to your health care provider before using.) The other therapy that can be very useful in SAD is melatonin, which is available as a dietary supplement in the United States. It’s job is basically to keep your biological clock in a 24 hour rhythm. For SAD, you usually only need a small dose of melatonin- 0.3 to 0.5 milligrams. If you’re having a hard time falling asleep at nights, staying awake until midnight or one o’clock in the morning, you would take your melatonin around 6:00 PM, whenever it’s starting to get dark where you live. (Note: higher doses of melatonin may be needed, 2-3 mg can be considered if the lower amounts are not effective in 5-7 days. While melatonin is considered quite safe, make sure you talk to your health care provider before using if you are pregnant or nursing.)