Just as Superman relies on the sun to fuel his powers, humans also need sunlight to boost their energy and mood throughout the day. But as winter comes along, the days get shorter, which can limit your time to bask in the sunlight and mess up your daily rhythm. Along with a few other factors, this change in the season can trigger Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a type of seasonal depression. SAD is known to cause mood altering symptoms in adults, but what about little ones. Do babies get seasonal affective disorder?
Romper reached out to physician and psychiatrist Scott Carroll, M.D., who says that the research on SAD in children is limited and only covers children as young as 9 years old. In his experience, Carroll says he has seen seasonal effects on behavior and mood in children as young as 3 years old, but on only a few occasions in his 20 years of clinical work.
“In those few cases, my pediatric colleagues and I extensively worked up the affected preschoolers and couldn't find any other explanation,” says Carroll, “and all of the cases resolved with improved sleep hygiene and increased exposure to natural sunlight.” That said, Carroll says that the other suspected cases he has seen have turned out to be either medical or developmental issues, or normal things like growth spurts, teething, or early effects of a mild viral illness. So it doesn’t seem that SAD is diagnosed commonly in young kids or babies.
What exactly causes SAD? According to the Mayo Clinic, SAD is a seasonal depression that begins in autumn and can continue well through winter in most cases, but can also cause less commonly present symptoms in the spring or summer months. In adults, the Mayo Clinic explained that SAD can cause symptoms including depression, fatigue, sleep issues, changes in appetite, or crankiness. The Mayo Clinic further noted that while there is no exact known cause of SAD, there are indications that short winter days can increase melatonin (the hormone that encourages sleep) and long winter nights can cause the disruption of the body’s natural sleep cycle known as the “circadian rhythm," resulting in depression. The website also mentioned that serotonin, the hormone responsible for fighting depression, is linked to sunlight, and with reduced sunlight comes reduced serotonin levels, making it harder to fight those winter blues.
There are currently no evidence-based studies that measure or indicate the rates or treatment of seasonal affective disorder in children, explained the American Academy of Pediatrics, so there’s no definitive measure to tell how, what age, or whether SAD can affect babies at all. The organization further explained that it isn’t easy to diagnose SAD in a child, because doctors need time to determine a pattern of depression. And because SAD is a seasonal depression, it can take more time to diagnose as seasons keep changing. They also explained that to diagnose SAD in a child, doctors need to ask the child questions to determine their mood and level of anxiety or depression, which is impossible to do with a baby who can’t speak and communicate their feelings.
“The main advice I would give parents if they are concerned about SAD in their baby or young child,” suggests Carroll, “is to go to the pediatrician for a medical work up, because SAD is a self limited condition (meaning it gets better in the spring) and you don't want to miss a more serious medical condition.” He says that he has found everything from low thyroid, diabetes, immunodeficiency, obstructive sleep apnea, and enlarged tonsils, along with chronic viral infections, autoimmune disorders, and even cancer in some of his suspected cases.
So, if you feel like your baby is fussier than usual, unable to sleep, or exhibiting any other symptoms you may associate with Seasonal Affective Disorder, definitely start by talking to your pediatrician and voicing every symptom and concern you may have.
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