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Have the winter blues? Here's how to identify signs of seasonal affective disorder

East Potomac Park in Washington, D.C. (NPS)
East Potomac Park in Washington, D.C. (NPS)
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This time of year when the nights feel longer and the cold gloomy days set in, our moods can also change. Doctors are warning about Seasonal Affective Disorder, also known as winter depression or seasonal depression.

Experts aren’t sure exactly what causes it, but the lack of sunlight could be impacting your biological clock, which also controls your sleep pattern and other circadian rhythms. The lack of light could also cause problems with serotonin, which is a brain chemical that affects your mood.

“You might be actually be sleeping a little bit longer, a little bit more restless,” said Dr. Andrew Davis. “Just kind of your energy levels, you feel a little zapped, right? You kind of lose a little bit of that and get up and go.”

Davis, a psychiatrist with Kaiser Permanente, explains the signs to look out for.

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“Changes in sleep, right? Changes in your overall energy level feeling a little bit more tired, more lethargic, changes in mood, right?” explained Dr. Davis. “Feeling more depressed, maybe even more irritable, not having any motivation to get things done.”

If this is you, Davis says there are a number of treatments including light therapy, dawn simulation, counseling, or medications such as antidepressants.

But don’t go out buying a light box right now to help with light therapy.

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“I would definitely kind of touch base with a healthcare provider and kind of go over things,” said Davis. “In general what you would want to do is target a light box that is advertised as being 10,000 Lux. That's important, and then also low in UV emissions. There are actually some light therapies that are high in UV emissions. So you wouldn't want that one.”

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