Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) manifests itself in a seasonal depression that sets in with the shorter days of fall and continues through the spring.
Although many people seem to suffer from such an actual cycle of depression, the January 2008 Harvard Health Letter reports that how the darker days cause depression is still not understood.
There are three theories concerning the connection:
1. Insensitivity to light may cause most people to stay emotionally even through the winter under artificial lighting, which boosts the weaker natural light of the season. But SAD sufferers may be more sensitive to light and thus need extra light to remain emotionally healthy.
2. Neural connections from the eyes to the brain may be part of what keeps us on a daily rhythm. But lower light in winter may put people with SAD out of phase with their biological clocks. Thus they find themselves alert and awake when their own internal clocks tell them it's time to be sleeping.
3. The processing of brain chemicals which affect moods, serotonin and dopamine, may be disrupted by low light.
Some SAD sufferes are helped by sitting in front of a strong light source for periods of time each day. But the Harvard Health Letter suggests that medication may be another solution.
from Harvard Health Letter, "A SAD story: Seasonal affective disorder", January 2008 issue, subscription required
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