It’s normal for one to have the winter blues, as cold weather, shorter days, and the traditionally dreary conditions of the season could all make people feel unusually gloomy at that time of the year. It’s all part of what’s known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD), and specialists have warned that the recent switch to daylight saving time could be the trigger to this seasonal case of the blues.
Speaking to ABC News, University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center director of psychology Jeff Janata cautioned about the warning signs of seasonal affective disorder. These include excessive sleeping, irritability, and a general lack of interest in things, and these symptoms could kick in as soon as the clocks shift back one hour to mark the end of daylight saving time. He added that about three percent of the U.S. population suffers from this condition, even as there may be a greater number of people who have some, but not all of the symptoms associated with depression.
“It’s not so much melancholy depression as it is what we think as neurovegetative depression,” said Janata, who compares the condition as something more similar to hibernation.
Aside from craving sleep more often and for a longer period, those who suffer from seasonal affective disorder may favor a diet heavier in carbs. Janata added that the condition is akin to what animals go through as they try to conserve energy in the cold months of winter. To be classified as suffering from SAD, the National Institutes of Health states that people need to have been diagnosed with acute symptoms for at least two years.
The Journal Times shared a press release from the Mayo Clinic that further expounds on seasonal affective disorder and how it affects people.
“SAD is a type of depression that primarily affects people during the fall and winter months. The lower levels of sunlight in the winter and fall, particularly in locations farther from the equator, can disturb your internal clock. This disruption may lead to feelings of depression. The change in seasons also can influence your body’s melatonin and serotonin — natural substances that play a role in sleep timing and mood. When combined, these factors may lead to SAD.”
Although SAD might not seem like a very serious form of depression, the Mayo Clinic cautioned that symptoms could get progressively worse as the winter months continue. Worse, there’s a possibility that sufferers may feel that “life isn’t worth living,” or even entertain suicidal thoughts.
Treatments for seasonal affective disorder include light box therapy, a form of treatment that impersonates outdoor light through the use of broad-spectrum ultraviolet lighting. Patients are generally advised to undergo this treatment for about 30 minutes each morning, with light boxes positioned one to two feet away from the patient. Medications such as bupropion, which is approved by the U.S. government’s Food and Drug Administration, are also listed by the Mayo Clinic as a helpful tool for people suffering from SAD.
There are also simple tools that patients can utilize at home to deal with seasonal affective disorder and its symptoms. These include maintaining a healthy sleep regimen (going to bed and waking up at a consistent time), eating a balanced diet with low sugar content, and exercise.
Although the end of daylight saving time and the subsequent onset of winter blues could be a concern for some people, Janata added in his interview with ABC News that the best thing to do is still to visit a physician.
“The first step that anytime you develop any inexplicable depressive symptoms is be sure to go see a primary care doctor,” said Janata. “There are many physical causes (of seasonal affective disorder to consider).”