"The hallmark of seasonal affective disorder is a pattern of depression that occurs in the fall and winter months that improves in the spring. There's a definite seasonal pattern," explained Dr. Emil Coccaro, the E.C. Manning professor and chairman of the department of psychiatry and behavioral neuroscience at the University of Chicago. "They have a major depression in the fall and winter when there's less light and they recover when there's more and more light."
The main treatment for SAD is exposure to bright lights, he said. And, during the fall and winter, people with SAD do this using light boxes that flood extra light into an area.
Previous research, reported in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences, has suggested that bright light treatment is most effective when done in the morning for people with SAD.
Rummo said that people on the Western edges of a time zone, and those living in Northern areas, may be affected a little bit more because they already experience more darkness in the morning.
"This is something that people should be a little bit aware of," said Rummo. But, he noted, it's also important to remember that it is just an hour, and everyone, including people with SAD, will eventually adjust to the switch.
And, Coccaro added that for people with SAD, the amount of light you're exposed to during the day is likely more important than the timing of that light exposure.
Read more about seasonal affective disorder from the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
SOURCES: Nicholas Rummo, M.D., sleep specialist and director, Center for Sleep Medicine, Northern Westchester Hospital, Mt. Kisco, N.Y.; Emil Coccaro, M.D., E.C. Manning Professor, and chairma
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