As the days are now shorter and we are exposed to less natural light, there are certain hormonal shifts occuring that can have an impact on not only our mood but our sleep patterns. Some of us notice this shift more than others. In fact, more people every year are diagnosed with Seasonal Affective Disorder, or appropriately abbreviated "SAD." Of those who are affected, most are women and younger people. Because SAD shares many of the same symptoms as clinical depression, and in fact many consider SAD just another form of depression, doctors will often prescribe antidepressants to treat the condition. The problem with this approach is that anti-depressants come with unwanted side effects like decreased energy and libido and weight gain. Fortunately, there are alternatives.
Here are three things you can do to minimze or eliminate the effects of SAD:
1. Bright Light Therapy – There are special full spectrum lamps or light boxes that mimic the suns full spectrum wavelengths. When our eyes detect increased level of light, a signal is sent to the brain's pineal gland. The pineal gland then triggers the production of serotonin, a hormone which allows your brain to relax and you to get restful, rejuvenating sleep. And it is no mystery that the quality of sleep you get directly affects your mood. These special lamps can be purchased in many department stores and on the Internet.
2. Vitamin D Supplementation – The other essential nutrient you get less of this time of year is vitamin D. This is because our main source of vitamin D is the sun. Vitamin D is essential for so many metabolic functions, such as calcium absorption, hormone production, and fat metabolism. The single richest natural source of vitamin D outside the sun is cod liver oil. Just one to two tablespoons per day can be enough to address a seasonal deficiency. However, some of us are more deficient than others, so it is always helpful to get a blood test before beginning vitamin D supplementation. Vitamin D itself is also available in supplement form, but with cod liver oil you get omega-3 fats and vitamin A as a bonus.
3. L-Tryptophan – This essential amino acid is a precursor to serotonin. Meats and eggs are a good source of this nutrient, but those affected with SAD need more. L-Tryptophan is available in capsules. Just 500-1000 mg per day, taken in the latter part of the day, is usually enough to bring about improvements in the symptoms associated with SAD and depression.