How can I Treat Seasonal Affective Disorder?

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  • Last Modified Date: 03 April 2020
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Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a condition that occurs in some people during the fall and winter months due to decreased exposure to sunlight. It tends to occur more often in women than men, and may also affect children with greater frequency. It also is more frequently noted in people who live farther away from the equator. Seasonal Affective Disorder can disrupt sleep cycles, cause depression, and result in weight gain, fatigue and decreased libido.

Standard treatment for Seasonal Affective Disorder is called phototherapy, or essentially light therapy. Treatment is undertaken on a daily basis at home using what is called a light box. This small box releases high levels of light, and the effected person sits in front of it for one to four hours a day depending upon the degree of SAD. It isn’t required to stare into the light, but merely to sit in front of it, pursuing whatever you’d like, like reading, working, or most other activities. It is required that you remain relatively stationary during phototherapy, but small movements are unlikely to affect results.

Sometimes phototherapy is insufficient to treat Seasonal Affective Disorder and other treatments may be considered. Small doses of antidepressants that are serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) like Prozac® or Zoloft® may be tried in combination with psychotherapy to help battle SAD. There is also evidence that some changes to diet and vitamin or mineral intake may help people who suffer from SAD.


One of the principal theories about diet and SAD is that people may not be getting enough vitamin D and may have overall lower levels of tryptophan. Both of these help to boost production of serotonin, which in turn helps to stabilize mood. For this reason, many doctors recommend that people take additional vitamin D and eat foods rich in tryptophan. Actually, one of the perfect foods from this standpoint is milk or most other dairy products, since they are naturally high in tryptophan and further are supplemented with vitamin D. Omega 3 fatty acids, and foods rich in omega 3 may also help to stabilize mood.

Another important aspect in treating Seasonal Affective Disorder is to encourage people affected to get outside when they can. When winter weather clears and the sun appears, bundle up and try to get a little exercise outdoors if you can. This can help increase sun exposure during sun-deprived seasons. Most people report feeling a little better when they can get outside for a time. Further, engaging in any type of exercise increases dopamine, another neurotransmitter that affects mood. When exercise outdoors is impossible, indoor exercise can be a help in chasing away the blues.

Many people are mildly affected by Seasonal Affective Disorder, while others have much more severe cases. When depression interferes with daily life, causes extreme mood instability, or leads you to contemplate suicide, you definitely need the guidance of a psychiatrist or even a good family physician to help you through this difficult time. There is treatment for this condition, which can soon have you back on the road to a healthy mood, regardless of weather or season.


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Post 4

Tryptophan, an amino acid is mistakenly thought of as making us sleepy after our big Thanksgiving turkey dinner.

Turkey among other foods like milk, cheese and beans, does contain tryptophan, and there is more and more scientific evidence that tryptonphan breaks down into several components, one of which does aide sleep. However, this is not enough to induce sleep after a meal at least not with present day information.

Post 3

I will have to write that the weather has an effect. A rainy overcast day is not as uplifting as blue sky sunny one, but I am contrary enough that I make a special effort to resist the down feeling. I turn on some lights and I imagine that helps and maybe it really does.

Donald W. Bales, M.D. retired internist

Post 2

Tryptophan? Isn't that the ingredient in turkey that makes you sleepy?

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