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Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), sometimes referred to as the Winter Blues, is now officially recognised by the medical profession as a condition that is estimated to affect in the region of two million people in the United Kingdom.
Seasonal Affective Disorder has a wide range of symptoms; most of which are also associated with depression:
Historically, three quarters of the population of the United Kingdom had jobs which meant they spent the majority of the day working outdoors, in modern times only 10% of people work in natural light, 90% of the population spend the Autumn and Winter months commuting to and from work in the dark and spend very little time in natural light.
The working day is now longer, we don’t wake up when the sun rises and go to bed when the sun sets, some occupations require us to work shifts and therefore the body clock has to constantly adjust to our sleeping, waking and eating patterns. Along with the fact that the United Kingdom is placed in the higher latitudes of the upper hemispheres which means we experience high changes in light levels between the Summer and Autumn months.
Long gloomy days with little light and cold, wet weather mean that the body can no longer take its cues from light provided by the sun in order to create a rhythm and regulate the pattern of waking, sleeping, eating, digesting and also our mood which in turn result in symptoms of SAD.
If we do not sleep enough, have a sluggish digestive system and feel gloomy like the weather then we are bound to begin to feel tired, lethargic and generally unhappy. These patterns or cycles are known as ‘Circadian Rhythms’ and they sometimes fall out of their natural pattern which leads to an unregulated body clock and ultimately results in Seasonal Affective Disorder symptons.
Every morning my alarm is set for 6:00am, I jump out of bed, rush to get ready for work and then sit in my office all day – occasionally escaping to grab a sandwich from the local supermarket. I then drive home at night, cook tea, tidy up and then sit and watch TV until I finally climb in to bed around 11:30pm. So how many hours of natural sunlight do I get – virtually nil? It’s dark when I get up, my office is lit by harsh strip lights and then it’s dark when I drive home. Our hectic lifestyles mean we miss critical signal from the sun which in turn affect our body clocks.
Without natural sunlight in the morning our bodies do not produce hormones which we require to feel active and awake. Reduced natural daylight leads to reduced productivity and a general feeling of lethargy – a bit like the lows we feel when our blood sugar is low. Our body clock is responsible for regulating our daily patterns of sleep, waking, activity etc.
Constantly staying up late will cause havoc with our body clock which in turn will create problems sleeping and also create mood problems. When our body clock receives the right type of light it produces active, energetic hormones and overrides the negative, gloomy ones – helping to re-tune your cycles of sleep, energy, digestion and lift your mood, helping you sleep better which in turn will give you more energy during the day.
Until recent years Doctors usually prescribed anti-depressants in order to treat SAD. More recently, after worldwide research, light treatment using medically certified SAD light boxes, has been hugely effective in treating SAD.
The reduction of natural day light causes our bodies to increase the production of Melatonin – the hormone that makes us feel sleepy, and reduces the production of Serotonin – the happy hormone responsible for feelings of wellness and happiness.
By tricking the body into thinking it is receiving higher levels of natural daylight we can improve the symptoms of SAD. If you feel that you may be suffering from SAD, please visit your GP or seek further guidance from www.SAD.org.uk
Check out our recent Autumn series blog post about boosting your immunity this Autumn.