Winter doesn’t officially begin its frigid reign until December 21st, but the days grow shorter and the nights grow longer much sooner than that. As the hours of daylight begin to decrease, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) becomes much more commonplace. While the exact causes are as yet unknown, most research points towards a lack of light as a cause.
Just because SAD only occurs in certain months, does not downgrade its impact. Any form of depression should be taken seriously no matter the season. Treating seasonal affective disorder with light is becoming more and more common. Learn more about SAD, its causes, and its treatments below.
What Is SAD
Seasonal affective disorder is a type of depression that typically occurs during the winter months when daylight hours are shortened. To be officially diagnosed, several criteria are considered. Common symptoms include: feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness, losing interest in activities that once brought you joy, disrupted sleep, changes in appetite, and feeling sluggish.
How Does SAD Occur?
Exposure to sunlight stimulates a part of the brain called the hypothalamus, which controls your circadian rhythm. Lack of light due to the shorter days in the winter can throw off your circadian rhythm and create chemical imbalances in your brain that can lead to the decreased production of serotonin, the chemical that makes us feel happy.
This lack of sunlight and decreased levels of serotonin typically leave people feeling sluggish and sleepy. Even your cognitive functions can become impaired. Decreased concentration and memory are both common symptoms.
How Light Therapy Can Help
The foundational idea behind light therapy is replacing natural light with artificial light to boost your body’s production of feel-good hormones. Light therapy uses light box technology to produce a bright white light which tricks your brain into thinking it’s getting the benefits of natural sunlight.
While you shouldn’t solely use light boxes to replace all exposure to sunlight, it can help supplement your exposure and even prevent the onset of SAD. For the best results, follow the tips below to get the most out of your light therapy.
- Light boxes should have at least 10,000 lux exposure as regular sunlight is about 50,000 lux
- Do not look directly into the light as it could damage your eyes. Keep the box near you and go about your normal routine while making sure you are within a few feet of it for longer periods of time.
- Total exposure times throughout the day should be about 30 minutes. You can use the box’s light all at once or break up the time over the course of the day.
- Start your day off with a little exposure to light. This will automatically begin to boost your mood and create a healthier mindset.
- Consult a doctor before beginning any treatment to ensure you are as safe as possible.