Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is very similar to clinical depression. The main difference between SAD and clinical depression is the time of year and light levels, especially in the northern latitudes. While clinical depression is caused by chemical imbalances in the brain and is usually persistent throughout the year, SAD is seasonal. The symptoms usually appear during the fall and winter and go disappear during the spring and summer.
Receptors in the eye sense light levels, and the change in light levels affect the levels of brain chemicals. Two important brain chemicals that it affects are melatonin and serotonin. In SAD sufferers, serotonin decreases during the fall and winter. Serotonin not only affects mood, energy levels, it can cause carbohydrate cravings and weight gain too.
On the other hand, melatonin is produced in the darkness, and production stops with daylight. When light decreases during the fall and winter, it can skew the levels of melatonin and affect the quality and length of sleep. Furthermore, melatonin is produced from serotonin. When the levels of serotonin fall, melatonin levels can fall too. Consequently, SAD sufferers not only suffer from depression, but they can suffer from sleep disorders too. Even with non-seasonal depression, there is a close connection between depression and sleep. Researchers have discovered that depression can cause sleep disorders, and sleep disorders can depression. Regardless of which came first, it becomes a viscious circle. While some SAD sufferers sleep too much, others develop insomnia or circadian rhythm sleep disorders. Tragically, in addition to the link between depression and sleep, a chronic lack of sleep can cause an increased risk of heart problems, diabetes, traffic and work-related accidents, and more.
The four standard ways of treating SAD are antidepressants, light therapy, negative ion therapy, and cognitive behavioral therapy. Unfortunately, the antidepressants for treating SAD can have negative side effects while cognitive behavioral therapy can be slow process. In fact, in some people, the antidepressants can increase suicidal feelings and violent behavior. Fortunately, in clinical trials, light therapy has been found to be just as effect as antidepressants, and negative ion therapy has been found to be almost as effective as light therapy.
There are two different types of light therapy: SAD lights and wakeup lights/sunrise alarm clocks. SAD light treatment consists of sitting nearby a light box that produces certain wavelengths of lights for approximately thirty minutes upon awakening.
However, even if you don't feel like you have thirty minutes every minutes, there is still hope. SAD light visors and wake up lights make light therapy even easier. Light visors can be worn on your favorite cap while you're going about your morning routine while wakeup lights are even more convenient yet. Unlike light boxes, wakeup lights use dawn simulation. Dawn simulation mimics the morning sun. It uses a gradually intensifying light thirty minutes before arising and to helps you awaken more easily and feel refreshed on those dark winter mornings. Some wakeup lights even have more features like dusk simulation, white noise, and more.