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Depression Health Center

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Fending Off Depression Symptoms in Winter

Try this winter game plan to ease symptoms of depression.

See the Light to Ease Winter Depression Symptoms continued...

A technique called "dawn simulation" -- in which a light is programmed to turn on early in the morning in your bedroom -- can also help, Rosenthal says.

Light boxes are widely sold over the Internet and exposure to them can help. When buying one, get advice from your doctor and choose bigger ones -- one that is at least 1 foot by 1.5 feet, Rosenthal says. These larger boxes have more supporting research, he says.

Patients sit in front of the light boxes daily for a specified amount of time. "Using light in the morning for a half hour to an hour is very effective," says Stephen Josephson, PhD, a psychologist in New York City and associate professor at Cornell University Medical School and Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, New York.

Getting bright light in the morning is best, says Al Lewy, MD, PHD, a professor of psychiatry at Oregon Health & Science University, Portland, a veteran researcher in the field.

Best time and amount? "As soon as you wake up, for at least a half hour," Lewy says. There is a subgroup of patients, however, who may do better with bright light in the evening. It's trial and error, he says.

Light therapy and dawn simulation together produce results equal to that given by antidepressants, according to a team of researchers from the University of North Carolina, who reviewed the results of 13 published studies and reported the findings in the American Journal of Psychiatry.

Consider Melatonin to Help Your Body Clock

In his research, Lewy has also found that most people with seasonal winter depression respond best not only to bright light exposure in the morning but also to a low dose of the hormone melatonin in the afternoon to reset their body clocks to normal.

The melatonin dose and timing should be calculated by a doctor familiar with the research. Lewy has found that about 29% of patients do better taking the melatonin in the morning instead of the afternoon.

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