Feeling SAD? Head toward the light, advises U of T expert

It’s that time of year again, when the days become shorter – especially after the clocks get turned back early Sunday morning – and people begin to feel the effects of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

Dr. Robert Levitan, a professor of psychiatry and physiology and the Cameron Parker Holcombe Wilson Chair in Depression Studies at the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Medicine, says that peak season for SAD is late January and February, but at this time in the season, he sees “a lot of patients who are oversleeping and experiencing fatigue and cravings for carbohydrates such as sweets, pasta and bread – especially women.”

These more physical symptoms set in first, followed by sad moods, which people begin to feel more towards the end of the year,

There is help for the 3 to 5 per cent of Canadians who suffer from SAD, writes Levitan in this week’s edition of Doctors’ Notes, the Toronto Star’s weekly column created by medical experts from the University of Toronto.

First and foremost, SAD sufferers should try light therapy. It’s simple, he writes: "You sit next to an ultraviolet-filtered lamp designed for SAD for 30 minutes a day. Please only use a unit that has been created with UV-filters for the treatment of SAD." 

Levitan also writes that Canadian researchers have found that anti-depressant SSRI medications work as well as light, adding that doctors sometimes add a supplement called tryptophan to the light therapy. 

Read the entire Doctors' Notes column 

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