Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Winter Blues... or something more?

For the past few weeks, I have felt extremely tired. I feel like a bear who needs to hibernate. I have never been much of a morning person, but since November it has gotten progressively worse: I wake up (barely) and keep the lights off and curtains drawn, laying on the couch in my pajamas with a blanket, snuggled up with my toddler until I can get myself awake enough to MOVE which is usually around 8 or 8:30am. I manage to get up and ready, we have breakfast, and then all I want to do is SIT. I have NO energy and feel so blah. I don't feel DEPRESSED, per se... not sad or numb or anything, just like I want to sleep and eat and that's it. I have been having terrible cravings for carbs and sweets. Finally someone suggested to me that maybe I have Seasonal Affective Disorder (also called SAD).

This version of the "winter blues" is not the same as clinical depression. Some of the classic signs of depression include feeling hopeless, losing interest in things you once enjoyed, and feeling worthless. SAD, on the other hand, usually shows itself as a distinct lack of energy during a block of months (usually fall and winter) that reverses itself during the spring and summer months. It also usually manifests as a desire to overeat carbs and sweets... and the resultant weight gain. If you think you may have SAD, you can do a self-assessment online at this site for free: I recommend doing the "seasonality questions" offered as well, to see what your overall pattern is for various times of the year. When I took this assessment, I scored with a high likelihood of having SAD. (Of course, you should see your doctor for a firm diagnosis and treatment plan).

SAD is thought to be caused by a change in your circadian rhythm (you can Google that!) because we have so much less light exposure in the wintertime. This makes perfect sense to me, since my symptoms arose when the sunrises got later (7:40am) and the sunsets earlier (by 4:30pm). Even the 8-9 hours of paltry daylight we got was overcast by thick grey clouds. I didn't help matters by keeping the drapes shut and staying indoors, either. And so, the generally accepted remedy for SAD is: light! Some people respond to small changes, such as keeping the drapes open all day, getting outside in the sunlight for at least 20 minutes every day or sitting in the sunlight shining through the windows. It's said to be helpful to go to bed with your blinds up, so that the first morning light can come into your room. Apparently your eyes have receptors for sunlight that send messages to your brain about how much melatonin it should produce. Not enough light yields too much melatonin, making you feel sleepy. Of course, there are other factors at play, and there is much information out there on the web for you to read if you're interested.

My first step was to open the drapes and blinds first thing in the morning. It's too frigid to go outside (and my toddler can't tolerate the icy cold), so I put some seating near the windows. I also went out and purchased "full spectrum" Reveal light bulbs for the living room and dining room. They are similar to these but I found them at a department store for about $4. These steps alone made minimal difference, so I decided to get serious. I bought a light box. A light box is a special type of lamp designed for Light Therapy (Luminotherapy). Basically, it mimics sunlight and tricks your eyes and brain into think it's spring or summertime. Doctors usually recommend 10,000 lux for 20-30 minutes every morning (either upon rising, if possible, or at the latest before 10am). You sit in front of the thing, don't stare into it, and read a book or eat breakfast or whatever you feel like doing. Then you go about your day. Another option is a Dawn Simulator like this one which is an alarm clock that gradually lights up your room in the morning like a sunrise. It's supposed to reset your internal clock (circadian rhythm) and, again, fool your brain into thinking it's summer with a 5:30am (or whatever time you choose) sunrise. After a week you're supposed to feel more energetic and crave carbs less. This type of therapy has been thoroughly researched. You can read more about it online, but be sure and ask your doctor what he recommends!

So I bought this light box called a "Day-Light" (see it here). It wasn't cheap... but if it helps me feel better it's worth every penny. It's sturdy, has legs, and I set it up on the kitchen table and sit in front of it in the mornings. It can be set at 3 different heights (experts recommend the center of the light being at eye level) and can be tilted for therapy (recommended 15 degree tilt, to mimic sunlight shining down from above) or you can tilt it further for use as a desk lamp. It has 2 brightness settings so that you can use it for other tasks. If you are thinking about light therapy, there are many options, and I like Amazon because you can read all the reviews and make an informed decision. Some of the choices available are listed here. I am on day 3, and so far, I do feel a LOT better. More than I would expect if it were just a placebo effect. Yesterday I felt great. I had more energy than I have had in months, and got a lot done around the house. Today I feel pretty good as well. I am still sitting at 246 pounds, but that's because things like cookies and crackers and cheese have been calling my name. Hopefully, with the addition of light therapy (and the energy to exercise that has come along with it), I can get back to the type of weight loss I experienced over the summer.


Dinah Soar said...

I've read that carb cravings can be due to a lack of B vitamins...which coincidentially, if lacking , can contribute to lack of energy. You may want to get a B complex vitamin and take it if you're not doing so already...and as hard as it is to resist carbs, eating them only keeps the craving going...when I get in that carb clench I eat a Pure Protein chocolate satisfies the immediate craving but the protein and fat in the bar don't fuel a future can break the cycle...I keep them around so if I find my sweet tooth getting out of hand, I can use them instead of other sweets.

I have experienced what you mentioned, getting up and being so tired that I'd have to go lay on the couch in the living room where I'd continue to sleep because I just couldn't wake up...I was in my late 40's and going through menopause...your problem could be hormonal....

Honi said...

funny u talk about this.. Ihave heard that their are folks who can be affected by this and those treatments seem valid and helpful to me.. hoping u feel better with each day .. and more energetic too..

Twix said...

My mother and I are affected by SAD. Yes, I can relate to how you are feeling. The thing that helped me the most so far is making sure I get into the sun first thing in the morning. But now it's so cold I am battling just to get outside. I do not like being cold one bit. Thank you for the link on the light therapy machine. I have often thought of using one. :D

Lidian said...

I know what you mean. I don't have SAD exactly but I know I feel better if I get out of the house into natural light every day, even for a little while. Hope you are feeling better -

neggleton said...

Hi there!
I am a reader from the other side of the world. My mother recommended you blog to me and I have read it from beggining to present. I am on a weightloss journey as well. I find your blog really inspiring and check in at least daily to see if you have updated.
I am here
PS with the SAD business come and live where I do (country Australia) its as hot and sunny as the devil here!

A Public Diet said...

So hows it going? is a few days to soon to tell?