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Seasonal Affective Disorder

Woman staring off into distanceSeasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, is a condition that affects many Alaskans. It is a disruption of mood that occurs most often during the winter months, when there is less daylight. The lack of daylight causes a shift in the hormones the body produces. SAD most often affects women and people in more northern latitudes, although it can also occur in children, men and people in more southern latitudes.

One cause of SAD is thought to be the hormone melatonin. It is made by the pineal gland in the brain and controls the body’s sleep cycle. The production of melatonin primarily takes place during the evening hours, which are much longer during the winter. This causes extra production during the darker months, which can lead to SAD. Another hormone, serotonin, has reduced production during winter months, which can also cause many of the symptoms of depression associated with SAD.

The most frequent symptoms of SAD include:

  • Depression
  • Tiredness
  • Sluggishness
  • Increased appetite (especially for carbohydrates)
  • Weight gain
  • Irritability
  • Needing more sleep
  • Feeling less cheerful
  • Socializing less
  • Difficulty coping with life as a result of these changes

Treatment for SAD usually involves the use of light, as well as things like a balanced diet and adequate exercise. More serious cases may require medication or therapy.

For those of us in Alaska it’s not always easy to get enough natural light, particularly during the winter months. It is because of this that the AFWC has SAD lights available to purchase through the office for light therapy purposes. It is recommended to use these lights during the morning hours, immediately upon rising, to boost serotonin levels and help reduce melatonin production. These lights are medically recommended and may be reimbursable by some insurance plans. The price of the lights is $230, and they come with a 5 year warranty.

Please talk to your provider if you feel like you have symptoms of SAD or depression for an accurate diagnosis.