News 8 On Call: Seasonal Affective Disorder

Health

NEW HAVEN, Conn. (WTNH) – News 8 is on call for you.
This time of the year, we’re losing daylight with the change of season.

With less sunlight, a condition called Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD – can set in, triggering significant behavioral changes.

Dr. Paul Desan – specializes in SAD at Yale New Haven Hospital. He calls it a public health epidemic.

He explains, “About 3 percent of people in CT at this latitude get significantly depressed every winter and about 15 percent have changes in their mood, in their energy and their appetite that affect their life.”

What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?

“Typically people find they need more hours of sleep, they may sleep less well but they often end up sleeping longer.” says Dr. Desan, “They find that their appetite may change and more commonly, it’s an increase in appetite and weight. People may have cravings for fats or carbohydrates.”

Who is affected?

Dr. Desan says, “Many our patients tell us they notice changes, even as a child or as a teenager but it tends to really get going in young adulthood. Sometimes, older ages, people notice more and more of a seasonal affect.”

Risk factors for SAD?

“For reasons that we still don’t understand,” says Dr. Desan, “Women are much more susceptible to seasonal changes in their mood and their energy. The other risk factor of course is the latitude. Nobody gets seasonal affective disorder in Florida but if you go further north than Connecticut, the rates of seasonal affective disorder becomes higher and higher.”

What’s the connection to melatonin?

“Human beings have a body clock. In the winter, the period of melatonin secretion, melatonin is the hormone of darkness, becomes longer and that’s a signal to all kinds of processes in the body that it’s wintertime,” say Dr. Desan.

What’s the best treatment?

He says, “Bright light treatment first thing in the morning, certainly before 8 a.m. for about a half an hour is going to reverse the effects of winter in most people. It’s quite bright and you sit at about arm’s length. It depends on the exact brightness. The manufacturer will tell you what distance you need to get 10,000 Lux and that makes your body believe it’s summertime.

He adds, “If you have diabetes or any other medical conditions that can predispose to retinal conditions then you should work with your eye doctor before you do this kind of bright light therapy.”

Natural daylight also effective for some people.

For severe cases – Dr. Desan says anti-depressants are an option as well as professional help.

Dr. Desan is the senior author of a peer reviewed study, evaluating 24 light box devices.

To find what the study has found, click here.

Have a health question? Send it to News8onCall@WTNH.com

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