Seasonal Affective Disorder
It seems that almost everyone is in a better mood on a sunny day. As it turns out there is some science behind this. Increased exposure to the sun’s rays has actually been found to boost the amount of serotonin your brain produces. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter, which has a number of functions. In particular, serotonin is well known as your body’s natural antidepressant.
This is one of the known causes that leads to seasonal affective disorder (SAD). While SAD is not understood very well by scientists it is known to be caused by a combination of factors including brain chemicals, ions in the air, and genetics. All individuals who suffer from seasonal affective disorder are sensitive to light and become depressed when they have less exposure to light. For this reason, those with SAD frequently experience bouts of depression during the winter months when days are shorter. Of course, the problem is exacerbated by living at higher latitudes where changes in the length of day are more dramatic.
What are the symptoms of SAD?
Those with SAD will get the typical symptoms of depression at the same time each year (usually winter). These symptoms include: feeling sad, grumpy, moody, losing interest in activities, eating more, sleeping more frequently and weight gain.
How is SAD treated?
SAD is treated by using what is known as light therapy. Light therapy involves sitting in front of a light box that emits ten times the amount of light a normal light bulb emits. Scientists have noted that getting light at the right time is important for combating seasonal affective disorder. This means getting exposure to light in the morning hours. Though not proven, researchers speculate that this works because it helps to keep your circadian rhythm in order.