If the "winter blues" or "cabin fever" is really getting you down, and you just can't seem to shake those doldrums, you may be suffering from seasonal affective disorder (S.A.D.) Perhaps you have never thought of S.A.D. as a sleep disorder. In the strictest sense, it's not. It's a form of depression.
However, major symptoms of S.A.D. include increased need for sleep and extreme fatigue. It is listed in many places as a sleep disorder, right along with jet lag and the sleep problems caused by shift work.
Autumn - a lovely time of year. Frost has kissed the leaves, turning them lustrous shades of red and yellow. In the mornings, the ground is white with frost, and the grass is brittle beneath your feet. Warm afternoon sunshine, chilly evenings beneath a sky bright with stars, perhaps a harvest moon, and, if you live far enough north, the brilliance of the Aurora Borealis (northern lights.)
Halloween, Thanksgiving, the autumnal Equinox, the change back to standard time. October, November, and the days becoming shorter as we move toward the winter season. A lovely time indeed, but for some it means the coming of winter depression. This depression has many names - cabin fever, winter blues, the doldrums. The official name is seasonal affective disorder, or S.A.D.
For some people, the depression is very mild, nothing but a slight lessening of enthusiasm, a sensation of sadness as autumn passes and winter approaches. For others, however, S.A.D. means several months of severe depression, a depression so bad that it becomes debilitating.
This is not a minor ailment affecting only a few people. Severe S.A.D. is said to affect as many as ten million Americans every year, most of them women. If you suffer from any of these symptoms, you may be a victim of seasonal affective disorder:
- A need for more sleep even though you are sleeping well
- No energy
- Listless, lethargic
- Weight gain
- A craving for high carbohydrate and/or fatty foods
- Difficulty concentrating
- General malaise
- Increased light in your home: Install large windows, especially those facing south. Let the sunshine in. Keep the drapes and curtains opened wide. Use full spectrum fluorescent lights wherever possible. These are about as close to natural sunshine as you can get using artificial means.
- Go for walks: Get outside whenever you can when the sun is shining. Go for walks. Take up some winter outdoor sports if possible. Skiing or tobogganing. Got kids? Help them build a snowman or take them skating on an outdoor pond.
- Take a vacation in sunnier climes: If you are lucky enough to have the cash and the time, get away during the winter. Escape those short, dark days. Exchange them for long sunny days further south.
- Get lots of exercise: If it's too cold to go out to exercise set up an indoor exercise plan for yourself. There are lots of videos available for all ages and all situations.
- Don't oversleep: Sure, the winter blues leaves you feeling tired, craving sleep, but keep going if you can. Avoid long afternoon naps and sleep only your regular hours.
- Watch your diet:. Seasonal affective disorder often produces a craving for foods high in carbohydrates, or for fatty sweets, foods like potato chips or doughnuts. Avoid them. Eat lots of fruit and vegetables. Stick to leaner meats and avoid those sugar-rich desserts.
- Avoid stress: If you feel stressed out, try some of the stress reduction exercises, or try meditation.
- Bright light therapy:This means using a lightbox to simulate the sunlight. It can be used early in the morning when you first get up.
- Medication: Your doctor may prescribe medication such as Paxil or Zoloft to help elevate your mood.