Seasonal Affective Disorder Can Make For Long Winter Nights After TBI

Posted by Bill Herrin on 15th Feb 2014

Seasonal Affective Disorder and Sleep Issues Can Be A Year-Round Problem For TBI Survivors

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a form of depression that occurs at the same time each year, usually in winter. Otherwise known as seasonal depression, SAD can affect your mood, sleep, appetite, and energy levels, taking a toll on all aspects of your life from your relationships and social life to work, school, and your sense of self-worth. You may feel like a completely different person to who you are in the summer: hopeless, sad, tense, or stressed, with no interest in friends or the activities that you normally love. While a less common form of the disorder causes depression during the summer months, SAD usually begins in fall or winter when the days become shorter and remains until the brighter and longer days of spring or summer.

SAD affects about 1% to 5% of the population, particularly women and young people, while a milder form of “winter blues” may affect as many 10 to 20 percents of the overall population. Since the amount of winter daylight you receive changes the farther you are from the equator, SAD is most common in people who live at least 30 degrees latitude north or south (north of places such as Jacksonville, Florida, Austin, Texas, Cairo, Egypt, and Hangzhou, China, or south of Perth, Australia, Durban, South Africa, and Cordoba, Argentina). No matter where you live, though, or how dark and cold the winters, the good news is that, like other forms of depression, SAD is treatable…or manageable.

Where Did Daylight Go, Anyway?

The reduced light, warmth, and color of winter leaves lots of people feeling a little more melancholy or tired—and isn’t necessarily something to worry about. But if your symptoms crop up around the same time each year, have a real impact on your quality of life, and improve when the seasons change, you may have Seasonal Affective Disorder. Symptoms can include:

  • Sleeping all the time, or having trouble sleeping
    • Being so tired it’s tough to carry out daily tasks
  • Changes in appetite, particularly cravings for sugary or starchy foods
    • Weight gain
    • Feeling sad, guilty or down
    • Feeling hopeless
    • Being irritable
    • Avoiding people or activities you usually enjoy
    • Feeling tense or stressed
    • Loss of interest in sex or other physical contact
  • The signs and symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder are the same as those for major depression. SAD is distinguished from depression by the remission of symptoms in the spring and summer months (or winter and fall in the case of summer SAD).

    Why Do I Feel Like This?

    As with depression, the severity of SAD symptoms can vary from person to person—often depending on genetic vulnerability and geographic location. For many, the symptoms usually begin mildly at the start of fall and get progressively worse through the darkest days of winter. Then, by spring or early summer, the symptoms lift until you’re in remission and feel normal again.

    To be clinically diagnosed with Seasonal Affective Disorder, you need to have experienced these cyclical symptoms for two or more consecutive years. Regardless of the timing or persistence of your symptoms, if your depression feels overwhelming and is adversely affecting your life, it’s time to seek help.

    As it stands, loss of sleep can be a huge challenge for a TBI survivor without the complications of Seasonal Affective Disorder. Since there are many forms of TBI, the challenge to get rest can vary from person to person – here are a few tips from the Lash & Associates tip card titled “Sleep After Brain Injury.” The tip card helps adults and veterans understand the causes and symptoms of sleep disorders, as well as how to manage them. Here are some valuable stats from this tip card:

    *• Sleep disorders are 3 times more common in persons with a traumatic brain injury than the general population.
    • Close to 60% of persons with traumatic brain injury have long-term difficulties with sleep.
    • Women are affected more often than men.
    • Aging increases the likelihood of sleep problems.*

    Why is sleep so important for a TBI survivor? Here are some of the likely benefits of sleep (also from the
    Sleep After Brain Injury” tip card:
    *• Sleep helps repair the growth of neurons in the brain to help neurological recovery after a brain injury.
    • Important hormones and neurotransmitters are sent out through brain cells that help the healing process during sleep.
    • Sleep helps make a person’s attention and short-term memory more efficient throughout the day, especially important for individuals whose attention and/or short-term memory has been affected by brain injury.
    • Sleep helps stabilize a person’s mood. This is important for individuals who feel overwhelmed by their emotions, are anxious, depressed, or on an emotional roller-coaster.
    • Sleep helps control pain like headaches, backaches, or other kinds of pain after an injury. So you see why it is very important to have better control of your sleep*

    Seek Help If You Have Symptoms

    The changing seasons, along with fluctuations in amounts of daily sunlight can affect the circadian rhythms that affect a person’s sense of time and sleep patterns…also known as their natural “biological clock,” If you feel that you are experiencing SAD symptoms or ongoing sleep issues – contact your medical professional for evaluation…the first step toward better understanding of your particular situation. Here’s to a more restful 2020!

    References: American Family Physician website article: “Seasonal Affective Disorder” on, Lash & Associates tip card “Sleep After Brain Injury” (designated with asterisks) by Samantha Backhaus, Ph.D., Kathleen Bell, M.D., and Marilyn Lash, M.S.W.

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