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Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) in Fibromyalgia, CFS/ME

In Blog by Alyssa Reid0 Comments


Image result for depressionIf you are struggling with depression, fatigue, feeling low and listless particularly during the shorter days and longer nights, you aren’t alone. – in fact it is called SAD –  Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) and in Fibromyalgia and CFS/ME it can be quite prevalent.

SAD, also known as winter depression, winter blues, summer depression, summertime sadness, or seasonal depression, is a mood disorder subset in which people who have normal mental health throughout most of the year experience depressive symptoms in the winter or summer. (Admittedly, before I stumbled across this research on Wikipedia, I only thought it affected us in the winter – you learn something new everyday!).

Seasonal Affective Disorder and Fibromyalgia

Up to 50% of people with fibromyalgia also report symptoms of seasonal affective disorder. According to a study carried out in Sweden, people with fibromyalgia syndrome tend to produce lower levels of melatonin at night, which may explain the problems with sleep at night and the tiredness during the day, as well as the increased rate of seasonal affective disorder.  One thing that can really help you get your sleep patterns under control is using melatonin – which you can buy OTC in North America.

The symptoms of seasonal affective disorder, especially the anxiety, depression and tiredness, can make it harder for people with fibromyalgia to cope with their muscle pain.

Modern Living and SADImage result for sunshine

Seasonal Affective Disorder – Why do we suffer in the Northern Hemisphere?

Historically we only ever worked outdoors; two hundred years ago 75% of the population worked outdoors now less than 10% of the population work in natural outdoor light. Whilst this is fine in the Summer months when there are longer daylight hours, in the Winter months, people tend to go to work in the dark and go home in the dark and don’t get to enough natural daylight.

This modern way of living has dramatically altered nature’s cues. A modern day no longer starts at the break of dawn and ends at sunset.
Workdays are getting longer and many people face shift work schedules. Additionally, the advent of electric lighting allows social gatherings and personal activities to extend well into the night. These factors have diminished the body’s natural ability to regulate the body clock and this work/life change has resulted in a dramatic increase in light deficiency symptoms.

We are more susceptible to SAD as we are situated in the higher latitudes of the northern hemisphere. As a result, we experience large changes in light levels between the summer and winter. In the UK and Ireland, we also experience periods of dark, gloomy weather which can reduce the amount of light we receive and therefore have a profound effect on our body clocks.

A combination of a change in seasonal light, our hectic lifestyles and the periods of darker days and poorer weather, can result in dramatic effects on our circadian rhythms. As a direct consequence of these environmental and lifestyle factors more people than ever before are suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder.

Does daylight impact your health?

Circadian Rhythms in Humans

Like many mammals in the natural world, the human body responds to light. As a result our bodies are tuned in to the daylight hours in order to maintain our circadian rhythms. These rhythms regulate many important bodily functions and if you do not receive the correct daylight signals at the correct time this can have significant affects on your wellbeing. Circadian rhythms help to regulate and control; food digestion, appetite for food, energy levels, sleep quality and length, and mood. Your Circadian rhythm are effectively your body’s internal clock and if these rhythms are disrupted it can result in you suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder and may require ).

In the distant past human’s lived in the outdoors and were exposed to sufficient levels of sunlight the whole year round even in the northern and southern hemispheres. However, nowadays our lives are mainly carried out indoors due to work pressures, busy lifestyles and change in social behaviours. With the advent of television and now the growth in computer, phone and tablet based entertainment we spend more time than ever indoors and miss out on the light cues our body needs. 

Without sufficient levels of morning light our bodies circadian rhythms are not triggered and our body fails to produce the hormones required to feel wide awake. During the day if we do not receive enough sunlight we feel sluggish, lethargic and low in energy and at night we stay awake long after darkness which can result in lack of sleep, disrupted sleep patterns and mood swings. In summary if we do not receive sunlight at the correct times and in sufficient quantities we can upset our body clock to such a degree that the symptoms of SAD ensue.

Top Tips for Combating SAD

SAD Lamp Link

  1.  SAD LAMP – As a result you need to combat these problems by changing your lifestyle as much as possible, provide your body with daylight at the right times or alternatively use artificial sunlight at the correct times using a medically certified SAD Lamp/Sun Lamp. (When looking for a SAD lamp, anything UNDER 10,000 LUX is considered as ineffective).  I believe it is really important to try a SAD lamp before your doctor rushes to put you on antidepressants! As well as increase our vitamin D intake.

Excellent Daylight Bulbs

2 Daylight Lightbulbs -The other thing that we have just invested in are ‘daylight lightbulbs‘. We never even heard of these before!  Our dear friend mentioned that they have replaced several of the bulbs in their home (bedroom, kitchen, living room) and it has made a world of difference for them. (In fact, they had to remove the bulb from the bedroom because they found they were extra chatty with their partner at bedtime and were wide awake!).

I was concerned that my daylight bulb for the bedroom was going to be too bright…with hypersensitivity to light, this is always an issue (hence I had a lightbulb in my night table lamp that we called ‘the dark’ because it was so low in watts that I couldn’t even see what colour I was using when using my adult colouring book! (Ps.  These books are awesome!  Good for winding down at night as well as distraction for pain and other symptoms!).

The light actually seems to be fine for me in regards to light sensitivity.  (I just turned it on to double check and it is a cool light).  As well, they are power saving and last a very, very, very long time!  And actually, not too expensive, either (Under £7 here in the UK).

There are a diverse range of symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder; many are associated with a feeling of general depression – which is why it is sometimes known as the ‘Winter blues’. Below is a list of possible symptoms.

SAD Symptoms:

  • Lethargy, lacking in energy, unable to carry out a normal routine
  • Sleep problems, finding it hard to stay awake during the day, but having disturbed nights
  • Loss of libido, not interested in physical contact
  • Anxiety, inability to cope
  • Social problems, irritability, not wanting to see people
  • Depression, feelings of gloom and despondency for no apparent reason
  • Craving for carbohydrates and sweet foods, leading to weight gain

It is always important to consult your doctor if you believe you have SAD as it may be another condition. (The above taken from www.sad.org.uk and Wikipedia).

Sunshine Vitamin D

From my personal experience, when I previously travelled to sunny countries, all I know is that the people who lived there were HAPPY (even those living in abject poverty).  Real sun provides us with Vitamin D – the Happy Vitamin!

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) in Fibromyalgia, CFS/ME and of course without having these conditions as well, can be treated – naturally.

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