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The Psychology Shop

Winter Time Blues

Winter Time Blues?
Perk Up Your Mood With Light Therapy!


Do you feel tired or sluggish beginning in the Fall? Have you been eating more than usual, feeling more irritable or anxious? Are your sleep patterns off, having more difficulty waking up and/or feeling sleepy during the day? Do you want to avoid your friends or dread social activities that you usually enjoy participating in? Welcome to the Winter Time Blues, also known as Seasonal Affective Disorder Syndrome (SADS)!! The National Mental Health Association estimates that approximately 30% of the population experiences a change in their mood during the fall and winter. For those of you that live in the upper regions of the nation, the symptoms and prevalence can be higher (especially in Alaska and Canada). This same phenomenon is seen in jet lag in travelers and night shift workers as well.

What causes SADS? SADS is directly related to the amount of daylight you receive. No matter how advance the human species becomes, we are still dependent upon our hormones. Hormones greatly impact our moods, ability to cope with stress, appetite, sexual activity, and sleep patterns. Daylight, (or the lack of) impacts the level of serotonin in our brains which in turn results in mood swings, low energy, food cravings, and irritability.

So what can you do to reduce the Winter Time Blues? First, get more light. Go for an extended walk during daylight hours. Another treatment is the use of a light box or dawn simulator. A light box is essentially a device consisting of fluorescent lights mounted on a mental reflector with a plastic screen that filters out damaging ultraviolet frequencies and diffuses the light to prevent glare. You place the box on a table or stand and sit nearby for 30 minutes to two hours each day.

A dawn simulator is a light that mimics dawn. Like an alarm clock, you set a time and the light creates a gradual sunrise that wakes you up gently and naturally. Both the light box and dawn simulator have been shown to be effective in treating SADS. Clinically, I have worked with several individuals who have responded very well to both the light box and/or the dawn simulator light therapy. Medications such as Prozac, Zoloft, and Celexa have also been shown to be effective in research studies. However, Melatonin which can be effective for jet lag, does not improve SADS when taken alone. The good news with the Winter Blues is that this problem is directly related to the seasons. As the days get longer, the symptoms will gradually fade away.

Please consult your doctor if you are considering any medications.