Seasonal Affective Disorder - How to Alleviate Winter Depression

Seasonal affective disorder or SAD, is a syndrome which causes some people to feel depressed during winter months, thus it is also referred to as winter depression. Full spectrum lighting or winter depression lights are used as a therapy for this condition.

What is SAD?


SAD is really a set of symptoms that qualify as criteria for determining that someone is suffering from this condition. According to the Mayo Clinic, there are four distinct criteria that have to be present to indicate that the person is suffering from SAD.

  • Depressive episodes at a particular time of the year
  • Remission of these symptoms when the season passes
  • Two years of seasonal symptoms with no non-seasonal depressive symptoms
  • The seasonal depressive episodes outnumber other depressive episodes during the patient’s lifetime

"Winter Blues" The definitive text on this condition was written by Dr. E Rosenthal M.D.

Another indicator that could very well be used as criteria is whether the afflicted person responds to therapy in the form of full spectrum lighting.

A less intense form of SAD called Subsyndromal SAD, affects even more people than the full-blown version. Many people suffer some lighter symptoms of winter depression, because most people in cooler climates don't get the amount of sunlight they need.

Causes of Seasonal Affective Disorder

There are several theories about the pathophysiology (the mechanism involved) that causes winter depression. Some experts think it’s related to low seratonin levels, which can lead to depression like symptoms.

Other scientists dispute this explanation and believe that the cause is related to the hormone Melatonin, which is produced in the pineal gland. The pineal gland is connected to the retina of the eyes and so reacts to sunlight and produces Melatonin.

The fact that full spectrum lighting seems to help alleviate the symptoms reinforces the theory, as it provides the full wavelengths of light the body seems to require triggering the production of Melatonin.

The Important of Sunlight

This condition really underscores the importance of sunlight, which I alluded to on my vitamin-d page. Human beings need sunlight for optimal health. All kinds of problems stem from this lack of sunlight, which is in a sense, a vital nutrient!

Our neurophysiology requires natural light to function properly. This is true of all human beings, but some like dark skinned people of African descent, are particularly sensitive to the lack of sunlight, and are thus more prone to seasonal affective disorder.

Vitamin-d, which is biosynthesized in the presence of sunlight, also has a role in winter depression, since low levels of this vitamin (which is really a hormone) are also associated with symptoms of depression.

Forms of Therapy

Forms of therapy for seasonal affective disorder include:

  • Getting as much sunlight as possible during the winter season
  • Regular exercise to maintain optimal levels of anabolic hormones
  • Use vitamin-d supplementation during the winter months
  • Carefully calibrated supplementation of the hormone Melatonin
  • Use of full spectrum lighting in the form of a light box or Ott Light
  • Use of audio-visual entrainment to alleviate symptoms
  • Use of negatively ionized air particles in your sleep area

The specifics of all of these approaches go well beyond the scope of this web page. My purpose in writing about winter depression is to bring to your attention the relationship between natural light and your health.

As I have emphasized with other topics, you have the ability to make changes and mitigate the effects of conditions like seasonal affective disorder. Don’t let it limit or control you. Learn more about this condition and how you can effectively relieve its symptoms.

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