What is Seasonal Affective DisorderbrSeasonal Affective Disorder and Sleep, Part 2Seasonal Affective Disorder and Sleep, Part 2

(December 18, 2023) — Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that varies with the seasons, affecting about 10 percent of people in the United States. Seasonal mood changes can be mild or serious, but they can be treated.

Self-Treatment or Medical Treatment?

If shorter days in fall and winter bring mild changes in mood, there are steps you can take on your own to feel better. If you have Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) — marked by moderate to severe symptoms of clinical depression every day for days at a time — you should talk to your doctor.

Bright Light Therapy for SAD

Bright light therapy is often suggested as a treatment for SAD. Most people with SAD benefit from sitting in front of a light therapy box, which produces artificial light that is similar to sunlight, for about 30 minutes early in the morning. You can buy special lights especially for this purpose, but you should not use them without a doctor’s supervision.

“If your SAD is serious enough for bright light therapy, you’re dealing with major depression and you really should not do that alone,” said Dr. Anuj Chandra, medical director of the Advanced Center for Sleep Disorders. “You may need other types of treatment in addition to light therapy, and you may need a doctor to help you use the light therapy box properly.”

Other Medical Treatments for SAD

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy — This is a form of talk therapy in which a therapist helps you retrain how you think about the darker months when SAD usually occurs. This kind of retraining can help in the short term, while you are experiencing SAD symptoms, and can prevent future symptoms in later years.

Antidepressants — Like other forms of serious depression, SAD can also be treated with a variety of prescription antidepressant medications.

Self-Treatment for Mild Seasonal Mood Changes

More Sun — One of the easiest things you can do for more moderate seasonal mood changes is to go outdoors and get some sun. Even if you feel like sleeping later, set your alarm and get up so you can start your day with early morning sun.

Be Active — Once the day is started, if you’re feeling down you still might feel like staying inside. Don’t give in to those feelings. Getting out into the world and being active will help establish — or re-establish — your normal sleep-wake cycle.

Sleep and Seasonal Affective Disorder

Sleep and depression are strongly linked, and the relationship goes in both directions. Sleeping badly can cause negative moods the next day, and insomnia can increase the risk of depression. At the same time, depression can lead to sleep problems.

“Patients very frequently have sleep problems and depression at the same time, and the relationship can be very complex,” said Dr. Chandra. “For example, prescription medications might help depression symptoms but not improve your sleep, and then lingering sleep problems might cause the depression to return. Or the effects of chronic sleep disorders may contribute to depression significantly. Both need to be treated.”

Practice Good Sleep Hygiene

That close relationship between sleep and mental health means that good sleep hygiene is important, whether you’re experience SAD or milder “winter blues.” Either way, it’s a good idea to follow these tips on how to get a good night’s sleep:

  • Exercise during the day but not in the evening.
  • Avoid caffeine for several hours before bedtime.
  • Turn off all electronic devices at least one hour before going to bed.
  • Be consistent with your bedtime, routine for going to bed, and morning wake-up time.
  • Keep your bedroom cooler at night than during the day.

Read more about SAD in Part 1, What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?

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