Irritable? Often feel tired or have low energy? Oversleeping? Appetite changes,
especially a craving for foods high in carbohydrates?
These are all symptoms of seasonal affective disorder (SAD), which occurs in
most often in people age 18 to 30.
Approximately 10 million Americans are affected, and another 1 to 2 million have
mild SAD episodes. December through February are the most severe months for SAD.
Mild forms of SAD are called “winter blues.”
Factors that may increase the risk of SAD include:
Being female. SAD is diagnosed more often in women than in men, but men
may have more severe symptoms. The ratio of women to men with SAD is 4 to
Age. Young people have a higher risk of winter SAD, which is less likely to
occur in older adults.
Family history. People with SAD may be more likely to have blood relatives
with SAD or another form of depression.
Having clinical depression or bipolar disorder. Symptoms of depression may
worsen seasonally for those who have one of these conditions.
Living far from the equator. SAD appears to be more common among
people who live far north or south of the equator. This may be due to deceased
sunlight during the winter and longer days during the summer months.
Fighting back involves a variety of actions. One is to get outside when natural
light is brightest. Also eat well and exercise. Finally, consider light therapy, which may
boost the body’s level of serotonin (the “feel good” neurotransmitter) while decreasing
production of melatonin.
Reduced sunlight can cause a drop in serotonin that may trigger depression. The
change in season can disrupt the balance of the body’s level of melatonin, which plays a
role in sleep patterns and mood.