November 26, 2014

Winter May Be Making You SAD

The shorter days at this time of year may leave many of us feeling down, but for some people it’s more than a simple case of the winter blahs.

SAD womanThe lack of sunlight that begins in late autumn can trigger a type of clinical depression for some people that can last until spring. Aptly referred to as SAD – seasonal affective disorder – this form of depression affects an estimated 10 million Americans (another 10 to 20% may have mild SAD[1]) and up to six per cent of Canadians (another 15% of Canadians experience a milder form of SAD[2]).

So if you’re feeling glum around this time of year, how can you tell if it’s just the winter doldrums or something more serious? Here are a few signs you may be suffering from SAD:

  • Sleeping more than usual (up to two to four hours a day)
  • Feeling lethargic (low energy levels)
  • Craving foods high in carbohydrates
  • Weight gain
  • Withdrawal from people and social activities
  • A depressive mood that has occurred over at least two consecutive winters, alternating with a non-depressive mood in the spring and summer.

SAD Facts:

  • Women are up to eight times as likely as men to report having SAD
  • SAD tends to run in families
  • SAD is more common among people who live in northern latitudes
    (Source: Mood Disorders Association of Ontario)

Feeling blue on some days can be normal. But if you feel down for extended periods and this is coupled with difficulty getting motivated to do activities you normally enjoy, changes in sleep patterns or changes in appetite, it may be time to seek medical help. Be sure to tell your doctor about any symptoms you’re experiencing and how they’re impacting your daily life (for instance, if you’re missing work, having trouble getting out of bed, etc.)

Thankfully, there are treatment options available that may help if SAD is seriously interfering with your day-to-day life. For some people – especially those with milder cases of SAD – getting a daily dose of sunlight in the form of light therapy can work wonders.

This consists of regular, daily exposure to a “light box” that simulates high-intensity sunlight. Daily sessions are typically 30 to 60 minutes long and should be continued until there’s sufficient natural daylight (so until the spring.)

Light therapy is ideal for anyone who prefers not to (or is unable to) take antidepressant medication. Studies have even shown that this treatment is as effective as antidepressants in many cases of non-severe SAD, and a bonus is that side effects are also uncommon.

If light therapy doesn’t work or your case of SAD is more severe, antidepressant medication (such as Prozac) may be helpful. Just be sure to discuss the risks and benefits of taking this route with your doctor.

Another treatment option is cognitive behavioural therapy – this is a type of psychotherapy that’s been shown to be effective in the treatment of depression. You’ll need to get a referral for a psychologist who specializes in this area.

If you think you might have SAD and would like a second opinion or need help finding a specialist, remember that Best Doctors is always here to help.

[1] Psychology Today (http://www.psychologytoday.com/conditions/seasonal-affective-disorder)
[2] Mood Disorders Association of Ontario (http://www.mooddisorders.ca/faq/seasonal-affective-disorder-sad)

The shorter days at this time of year may leave many of us feeling down, but for some people it’s more than a simple case of the winter blahs.

SAD womanThe lack of sunlight that begins in late autumn can trigger a type of clinical depression for some people that can last until spring. Aptly referred to as SAD – seasonal affective disorder – this form of depression affects an estimated 10 million Americans (another 10 to 20% may have mild SAD[1]) and up to six per cent of Canadians (another 15% of Canadians experience a milder form of SAD[2]).

So if you’re feeling glum around this time of year, how can you tell if it’s just the winter doldrums or something more serious? Here are a few signs you may be suffering from SAD:

  • Sleeping more than usual (up to two to four hours a day)
  • Feeling lethargic (low energy levels)
  • Craving foods high in carbohydrates
  • Weight gain
  • Withdrawal from people and social activities
  • A depressive mood that has occurred over at least two consecutive winters, alternating with a non-depressive mood in the spring and summer.

SAD Facts:

  • Women are up to eight times as likely as men to report having SAD
  • SAD tends to run in families
  • SAD is more common among people who live in northern latitudes
    (Source: Mood Disorders Association of Ontario)

Feeling blue on some days can be normal. But if you feel down for extended periods and this is coupled with difficulty getting motivated to do activities you normally enjoy, changes in sleep patterns or changes in appetite, it may be time to seek medical help. Be sure to tell your doctor about any symptoms you’re experiencing and how they’re impacting your daily life (for instance, if you’re missing work, having trouble getting out of bed, etc.)

Thankfully, there are treatment options available that may help if SAD is seriously interfering with your day-to-day life. For some people – especially those with milder cases of SAD – getting a daily dose of sunlight in the form of light therapy can work wonders.

This consists of regular, daily exposure to a “light box” that simulates high-intensity sunlight. Daily sessions are typically 30 to 60 minutes long and should be continued until there’s sufficient natural daylight (so until the spring.)

Light therapy is ideal for anyone who prefers not to (or is unable to) take antidepressant medication. Studies have even shown that this treatment is as effective as antidepressants in many cases of non-severe SAD, and a bonus is that side effects are also uncommon.

If light therapy doesn’t work or your case of SAD is more severe, antidepressant medication (such as Prozac) may be helpful. Just be sure to discuss the risks and benefits of taking this route with your doctor.

Another treatment option is cognitive behavioural therapy – this is a type of psychotherapy that’s been shown to be effective in the treatment of depression. You’ll need to get a referral for a psychologist who specializes in this area.

If you think you might have SAD and would like a second opinion or need help finding a specialist, remember that Best Doctors is always here to help.

[1] Psychology Today (http://www.psychologytoday.com/conditions/seasonal-affective-disorder)
[2] Mood Disorders Association of Ontario (http://www.mooddisorders.ca/faq/seasonal-affective-disorder-sad)

September 24, 2014

The Dangers of Skimping on Sleep

Work, errands, exercise, kids and more: for many of us, most days feel like a marathon – there’s just far too much to do and too few hours in which to do it. So what do we do to cope?

Increasingly, we’re robbing ourselves of sleep in order to squeeze a few more precious hours out of the day. The numbers are nothing short of alarming: research shows that 30% of Canadian adults get fewer than six hours of sleep a night and 60% of Canadians say they feel tired most of the time, according to a report by the World Association of Sleep Medicine. About 20% of Americans report getting less than six hours of sleep a night, according to the National Sleep Foundation. Meanwhile, experts recommend between seven and nine hours of sleep each night for most adults.

woman sleeping

While many of us view skimping on sleep as necessary in order to deal with the demands of our busy lives, this is in fact harming us more than we may realize.

In the short-term, getting too few hours of shut-eye every night makes us feel anxious, drowsy, distracted, can lead to decreased performance at work and increases our chances of getting into a car accident.

The long-term effects of chronic sleep deprivation are frightening, and include the possibility of an earlier death. Studies show that people who get fewer hours of sleep are at greater risk for heart disease and heart attacks. Research also shows a link between a consistent lack of sleep and a higher risk of being overweight or obese. Other long-term consequences of repeatedly clocking too few hours of sleep include mood disorders such as depression, high blood pressure and being at greater risk for strokes.

If you still think of yourself as a superhuman who can get by on a few scant hours of sleep a night, consider this: a hamster kept awake for three days will die. And for a 1964 Stanford University study, a high-school student stayed awake for just over 11 days. By the end, he couldn’t speak. A good night of sleep isn’t a luxury, although increasingly we seem to view it this way – it can literally be a matter of life or death.

Establishing a sleep routine

Firstly, we need to create the conditions for a good night of rest. Experts recommend establishing consistent sleep and wake schedules, creating relaxing bedtime routines (goodbye, TV and Facebook – hello, warm bath and music), ensuring we go to bed in an environment conducive to sleep (think dark, quiet, comfortable and cool), finishing any snacking about two to three hours before bedtime and avoiding caffeine or alcohol before we turn in for the night.

If you find that you experience symptoms that prevent you from getting a good night of sleep (for instance, difficultly breathing at night or leg cramps) or if you find you’re always sleepy during the day, you should consult your physician. They can help you resolve any underlying health issues, paving the way for you to get the sleep you need to function optimally.

Though we live in a society that expects us to be “on” 24/7, we also need to start prioritizing sleep. Just as we schedule work and other commitments or tasks into our daily lives, it’s crucial that we put sleep at the top of our to-do list. We must view it as being just as important as whatever else we’re cramming into our allotted 24 hours. And if this means squeezing one less thing into the day, so be it. There’s always tomorrow.

Work, errands, exercise, kids and more: for many of us, most days feel like a marathon – there’s just far too much to do and too few hours in which to do it. So what do we do to cope?

Increasingly, we’re robbing ourselves of sleep in order to squeeze a few more precious hours out of the day. The numbers are nothing short of alarming: research shows that 30% of Canadian adults get fewer than six hours of sleep a night and 60% of Canadians say they feel tired most of the time, according to a report by the World Association of Sleep Medicine. About 20% of Americans report getting less than six hours of sleep a night, according to the National Sleep Foundation. Meanwhile, experts recommend between seven and nine hours of sleep each night for most adults.

woman sleeping

While many of us view skimping on sleep as necessary in order to deal with the demands of our busy lives, this is in fact harming us more than we may realize.

In the short-term, getting too few hours of shut-eye every night makes us feel anxious, drowsy, distracted, can lead to decreased performance at work and increases our chances of getting into a car accident.

The long-term effects of chronic sleep deprivation are frightening, and include the possibility of an earlier death. Studies show that people who get fewer hours of sleep are at greater risk for heart disease and heart attacks. Research also shows a link between a consistent lack of sleep and a higher risk of being overweight or obese. Other long-term consequences of repeatedly clocking too few hours of sleep include mood disorders such as depression, high blood pressure and being at greater risk for strokes.

If you still think of yourself as a superhuman who can get by on a few scant hours of sleep a night, consider this: a hamster kept awake for three days will die. And for a 1964 Stanford University study, a high-school student stayed awake for just over 11 days. By the end, he couldn’t speak. A good night of sleep isn’t a luxury, although increasingly we seem to view it this way – it can literally be a matter of life or death.

Establishing a sleep routine

Firstly, we need to create the conditions for a good night of rest. Experts recommend establishing consistent sleep and wake schedules, creating relaxing bedtime routines (goodbye, TV and Facebook – hello, warm bath and music), ensuring we go to bed in an environment conducive to sleep (think dark, quiet, comfortable and cool), finishing any snacking about two to three hours before bedtime and avoiding caffeine or alcohol before we turn in for the night.

If you find that you experience symptoms that prevent you from getting a good night of sleep (for instance, difficultly breathing at night or leg cramps) or if you find you’re always sleepy during the day, you should consult your physician. They can help you resolve any underlying health issues, paving the way for you to get the sleep you need to function optimally.

Though we live in a society that expects us to be “on” 24/7, we also need to start prioritizing sleep. Just as we schedule work and other commitments or tasks into our daily lives, it’s crucial that we put sleep at the top of our to-do list. We must view it as being just as important as whatever else we’re cramming into our allotted 24 hours. And if this means squeezing one less thing into the day, so be it. There’s always tomorrow.