Ways to fight the winter blues

Friday, January 5, 2007

The Winter Blues

Ways to fight the winter blues
When winter hits, as many as 40 million Americans get the blues. Shorter days and less sunlight can throw off the body clock, affecting mood and sleep.

The official name for this winter depression is Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD. There are proven ways to fight it, but timing is everything.

Gray skies, snow, rain – It’s enough to make anyone feel blue. When the winter months start, Leneva Spires wishes she could stay in bed.

“You sort of feel like you’re half awake all day long,” said Spires, who suffers from Seasonal Affective Disorder.

She tried sleeping longer and drinking more coffee, but her fatigue and depression just got worse. So she enrolled in a study using light therapy.

Psychiatrist Al Lewy has studied winter depression for more than two decades. He says light therapy works best but must be used as soon as you get up.

“The first week or two you might have to sit in front of the light fixture for two hours,” said Lewy, PhD, MD, psychiatrist at Oregon Health and Science University. “Once you respond, you can cut down the duration to as short as 15 minutes.”

Light rays boost brain chemicals and make your body realize it’s time to wake up.

Another option is the melatonin. In a recent study, it improved depression symptoms by 30 percent. Lewy says use low doses and take it in the afternoon.

“If you take a tiny little dose of melatonin in the afternoon, it tricks the body clock into thinking it’s dark out,” said Lewy. “It’s a chemical dark signal, and that advances or shifts earlier the time of dusk.”

Spires says the light therapy and melatonin are making this winter much more pleasant.

Light boxes are available commercially for two hundred to 0. Melatonin is still considered experimental, but if you are going to try it, start with a dose no higher than .3 milligramts.

Lewy advises you to talk with your doctor before trying either of these options.


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