How to overcome seasonal sleep disorder
The “winter blues” have inspired countless books, songs and holiday conversations, but for some, they pose a true medical concern. Affecting more than one in 20 Americans, seasonal affective disorder (SAD) ranks as a form of clinical depression, and its effects—including low energy, weight gain and excessive sleep—are certainly nothing to sing about.
However, seasonal sleep disorder is highly treatable, via four separate protocols: vitamins, photo-therapy, medication and counseling. There’s likely a combination among them to help you escape the doldrums when the temperatures drop.
Take your vitamins
For some, enduring the colder, darker months free of SAD’s grasp is as simple as leveling up their vitamin D intake. Whether by taking supplements or by making a point of getting more sun exposure, you can see remarkable effects.
“Even on cold or cloudy days, outdoor light can help—especially if you spend some time outside within two hours of getting up in the morning,” according to the Mayo Clinic. That’s because the vitamin D your skin absorbs from sunlight can affect your brain’s serotonin levels, which are partially responsible for balancing moods.
Get the right RX
For those with more severe symptoms and, in particular, those for whom home remedies don’t help, prescription medication can alleviate seasonal depression. Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs), which are marketed under brand names including Prozac, Lexapro and Paxil, are a common class of antidepressants prescribed by physicians to treat SAD symptoms. Some doctors may instead prescribe extended-release bupropion (more familiar by one of its brand names, Wellbutrin), with dosages beginning before winter sets in, effectively heading the blues off at the pass.
Let in the light
Phototherapy, also referred to as “light therapy,” is another mode of treatment that’s been popular among seasonal sleep disorder sufferers for quite some time. By mimicking sunlight, phototherapy can alter the brain chemicals most closely linked to changes in mood, and voila — the dark clouds start to lift.
According to the National Institutes of Health, you can relieve symptoms of SAD by sitting in front of a light box first thing in the morning from early fall through spring. “Most typically, light boxes filter out the ultraviolet rays and require 20 to 60 minutes of exposure to 10,000 lux of cool-white fluorescent light, an amount that is about 20 times greater than ordinary indoor lighting,” the NIH writes.
Talk it out
Long respected in the psychology community as a wise approach to addressing issues with regard to mood, cognitive behavioral therapy, or “talk therapy,” is a comprehensive form of treatment that can identify two key items: factors that exacerbate the condition and behaviors that can help patients cope and overcome it.
By discussing stress management techniques and designing daily routines to combat the effects of seasonal sleep disorder, talking to a licensed counselor can—over time—help lead seasonally depressed patients out of the dark.
Kiss the blues goodbye
Knowing depression for seasonal sleep disorder isn’t just a figment of the imagination is the first step toward combating it. For those battling the cold weather blues or hoping to keep them at bay before they arrive, clinical and wellness-oriented treatment options can help zap winter’s gloom and let the light back in.
Written by Amy Lynch
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