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Merry Christmas!!

I love the holiday season, the lights, decorations and the anticipation of Christmas coming. This year our family braved the drive down to Portland after Thanksgiving for Black Friday sale to get some serious shopping done. My 7 month pregnant wife went crazy while I was pushing around my double stroller with Sydney and Ethan on board. After we had been out for 14 hours, two trips back to the hotel to unload shopping bags, and back out again, I realized that women do have super human strengths, when it comes to shopping!!!

This time of year is also my saddest. I do believe I have mild form of SAD, seasonal affective disorder. It occurs as winter approaches and daylight hours become shorter along with shades of gray and the rain. It is thought that less light to the eyes increases the production of melatonin, which is linked to sleepiness and fatigue. Melatonin naturally helps us fall asleep at night, which is why I recommend taking this if you have insomnia. Conversely, light is linked to increasing production of serotonin, which increases your mood and energy.

In Seattle, about 6 to 10 % of the population can experience SAD. One study showed that in northern states like Washington we are 7 times higher in SAD patients than in southern states like Texas. This might explain why I am more tired, require more sleep, and have the tendency to crave and overeat on simple carbohydrates, which are comfort foods and raise serotonin temporarily.

The natural treatment for SAD is to increase light exposure. Spend more time outside during the day when it is sunny. Light Therapy or photo-therapy can also simulate daylight if it is cloudy outside. These are special light boxes or panels which are placed near your bed, desk, or where you might sit for 30 to 45 minutes during the day. I have one of these on my desk which I use during the winter months. Supplements that contain 5-HTP can also be added to raise serotonin in your brain. 5-HTP is the raw material that your brain uses to make serotonin. Lastly, antidepressant medications which also raises your serotonin can also be used in combination to light therapy for treatment of moderate to severe cases of SAD. Patients might want to consider taking antidepressants for the 3 to 4 months when it is the darkest in Seattle.

So I am happy but also SAD. But mostly I am happy and thankful for my family, my co-workers, my patients, and my overall good health. I wish you have a Merry Christmas and good health to you as well !!!


Erik Suh, MD


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