If winter's dreariness gives you the blues, it's not all in your head. You may be one of 10 million Americans who have seasonal affective disorder or SAD. It happens when the body's natural rhythms are disturbed.
In warmer months, we wake up with the sun and go to sleep after dark. But come winter, the alarm clock goes off when it's still dark, knocking our circadian clock (sleep/wake rhythm) out of step with the body's other rhythms. Symptoms of SAD include mood changes, excessive sleep and increased appetite.
"SAD wasn't always recognized as a legitimate depressive disorder," says Newport Hospital psychologist Jon Brett, PhD. "Now treatments include antidepressants, exercise and a reduced carbohydrate diet. Seeing a therapist may also help; it's important not to become isolated."
Light therapy may also help by tricking the body's rhythms into waking up. "For some people, 30 minutes in front of a high intensity fluorescent light box twice a day provides relief," says Brett. The only pain from light therapy is the price-about $300 a unit-and the cost is not always covered by insurance companies.