The Medical Minute: Easy treatments can help lift winter blues

Penn State News – Top News

For many people, the winter months bring a form of depression called seasonal affective disorder (SAD).SAD is characterized by symptoms such as daily feelings of sadness or depression, lack of energy, problems with sleeping, moodiness, changes in appetite and loss of interest in usual activities.
“It is most common among people who live far north or south of the equator and usually occurs in fall and winter, although some people experience SAD in the spring,” said Dr. Madhavi Singh, a family medicine physician with Penn State Health in State College. “More women than men are diagnosed with this disorder, which most commonly appears between ages 20 and 30.”
The exact cause of SAD is not known, though three primary factors are suspected:
The body’s internal clock. The seasonal decrease in sunlight can disrupt the body’s circadian rhythms, which tell us when we should go to sleep and wake up.
Serotonin levels. Serotonin is a brain chemical that affects mood, and reduced sunlight can cause a drop in the amount of it in the body.
Melatonin levels. Melatonin is a hormone that helps regulate sleep patterns. Longer periods of darkness during cold-weather months can alter how much melatonin the body produces and when. “Easy lifestyle changes can help anyone adjust to seasonal changes in daylight and avoid some of the effects of SAD,” Singh said. “Most of these recommendations assist the body in getting the right amount of sleep at the proper time of day.”
She recommends:
Creating a brighter indoor environment by turning on lights, opening blinds and trimming shrubs that block windows.
Walking outside for 60 minutes each day, even when the sky is cloudy.
Exercising about three to four hours before bedtime, whether indoors or out.
Staying socially engaged, even though it’s tempting to stay home when darkness falls so early in the evening.
Forgoing caffeine in …

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