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Winter Depression (SAD) Starts Now: What to Do

Sweet dreams
Some people, like Davis, are prescribed antidepressants to ease their symptoms at first. Herbal alternatives exist, however, most notably St. John’s wort. Research from the University of Vienna, Austria found that taking 900 mg of hypericum (an extract of St. John’s wort) daily for four weeks was as effective as light therapy in treating SAD patients. And valerian root can help with insomnia caused by depression. A review of studies found that 300 to 600 mg taken 30 minutes to two hours before bedtime effectively eased sleeplessness.

Since SAD can alter normal melatonin production, which can also affect your sleep cycle, you may benefit from taking supplements. Melatonin levels increase before bedtime, peak during the night, and gradually decrease as morning approaches. Taking 2 mg of melatonin one to two hours before bedtime improved the sleep quality and resultant vitality of SAD patients, according to a 2003 study in the journal European Neuropsychopharmacology. (Caution: Children and teens should only take melatonin under a doctor’s supervision. Some experts believe extra melatonin could delay normal development during puberty.)

Short days and long nights can also disrupt your normal sleep routine since your body isn’t used to going to bed when the sun sets around dinnertime or waking up when it’s still dark. A dawn simulator can help maintain your normal spring/summer sleep cycle. The device gradually fills your bedroom with light, simulating a natural sunrise, to gently tell your body it’s time to wake up–even if it’s still dark outside. (Read about dawn simulators here, Easy Greening: Alarm Clocks.)

A 2005 study from the Center for Health Studies in Seattle found that dawn simulators along with light therapy helped reduce symptom severity in SAD patients.

Regular acupuncture treatments can also help control SAD. Stimulating the yintang point, between the eyebrows, relieves many of the symptoms, says acupuncturist Skya Abbate, DOM, executive director of the Southwest Acupuncture College in Santa Fe, New Mexico. “Needling yintang stimulates the pineal gland, which helps produce more melatonin and decreases lethargy and depression,” says Abbate.

No one can control the seasons, but you can stop them from controlling you. Davis has held her SAD in check for four years now. It takes effort, but her combination of exercise and light therapy has kept her light switch permanently in the “on” position. “I’m still not a winter person,” she says. “But now I can enjoy the parts of winter I used to, like the beauty of snow and the joy of holidays. I now have the confidence that I can function in a more normal way.”

Do You Have SAD?
You may, if your depression begins every September or October and ends each spring in March or April, and if your depressive episodes occur at least two years in a row. If you suspect SAD, it’s a good idea to first rule out hypothyroidism, anemia, hypoglycemia, and chronic viral illnesses, since these conditions may mimic SAD.

Core SAD symptoms:
Increased sleep (70 to 90 percent of SAD patients)
Increased appetite (70 to 90 percent)
Significant weight gain (70 to 90 percent)
Carbohydrate cravings (80 to 90 percent)

Other symptoms:
Fatigue/inability to carry out normal routine
Feelings of misery, guilt, low self-esteem, despair, apathy
Irritability
Avoidance of social contacts
Increased susceptibility to stress
Decreased interest in physical contact and sex

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Natural Solutions: Vibrant Health, Balanced Living offers its readers the latest news on health conditions, herbs and supplements, natural beauty products, healing foods and conscious living.

55 comments

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10:21AM PST on Jan 19, 2011

Not easy to start without any money

9:51AM PST on Jan 18, 2011

Well, except for the increased appetite and weight gain I have pretty much all the other symptoms in winter. My university grades confirm that also, in winter I usually score lower in all exams than in summer. Thanks for the tips and the info, I actually couldn't find much help in dealing with SAD so far, most people have told me to deal with it or that they just don't understand why I dislike winter.

9:22AM PST on Jan 18, 2011

Great article & tips - I am a person who always feels "blue" on gray days during winter. It became more pronounced when I worked in a cube with no access to outside light at all. Thanks!

11:55AM PST on Dec 20, 2010

Along with Charles Webb's lack of empathy, I'm also rather curious as to how he feels that global warming will cause more day light in winter.
Great article, hopfully it will help people out with this disorder.

9:44AM PST on Dec 7, 2010

Charles Webb doesn't know what the hell he is talking about and has NO compassion. SAD is real and this article offers very good advice to cope with it. Light therapy, good nutrition, exercise and taking Vitamin D and fish oil supplements help tremendously.

5:56AM PST on Dec 7, 2010

Another whiner's disease. These people need to get out and volunteer at soup kitchens, missions, or AIDS/cancer hospices and see what suffering is all about. Maybe they need to go to a 3rd world country where people are starving, raped, diseased and dying. Then they could see what real suffering is. None of those people get to have any kind of light therapy or any other kind of therapy. They just cope and struggle on. Maybe the whiners can learn something about surviving and being tough. We are such a spoiled, pampered society. Run to a therapist if you're a bit depressed. Give me a break. You want to hear about suffering, talk to a holocaust surviver. If you hate the lack of sunshine, move to Fl or Ca. Actually, global warming should solve all your ailments.

12:35AM PST on Jan 12, 2010

OK...

12:35AM PST on Jan 12, 2010

OK...

2:41PM PST on Jan 7, 2010

Thank you for how to help with this i suffer from SAD and it's terrible im only 14

7:31PM PST on Jan 1, 2010

There is an online support website for people who have 4S or Selective Sound Sensitivity, sometimes refered to as Mysphonia, although not everyone is in agreement on that. 4S is an extreme dislike of certain sounds, particularly sounds coming from the mouth or the nose, but many people who have this also have lists of other irritant sounds. When it is very bad it can cause people to isolate and to try to protect themselves from the noise. Most people who have this also have very good hearing. I can imagine this could contribute to SADS because of the lack of sunlight.

If anyone is interested in finding out more about 4S and the online support community you can go to http://www.soundsensitive.org/

When the noise is intolerable sometimes earplugs can be helpful, but a ZEM Gaurd will block out sounds within a certain decible range which is more helpful if a little more uncomfortable to wear. Other solutions are construction ear muffs and noise canceling headphones.

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