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Light therapy for seasonal disruption: Tips for picking

It is ironic that the coldest, darkest part of the year is when the Americans celebrate their happiest holiday. For…

It is ironic that the coldest, darkest part of the year is when the Americans celebrate their happiest holiday. For many, the weather between Thanksgiving and New Years says anything but “the most wonderful time of the year” – no matter what the Andy Williams song claims.

For some people, the change in season gives more than just shaking. About six percent of the United States population suffer from seasonal affective disease (SAD), a subtype of depression that occurs mainly in the fall and winter months. The symptoms are almost identical to the symptoms of major depressive disease that causes sadness, feelings of hopelessness and excessive sleep. The difference with SAD is that the symptoms fade when spring and summer come around.

The exact cause of SAD is unclear, but researchers have found that people with disturbance exhibit some characteristics:

  • A drop in serotonin, a brain-related substance associated with mood

  • An overproduction of melatonin, a hormone that regulates sleep

  • And insufficient vitamin D levels, which can be caused by lack of sunlight.

Light Therapy: How It Helps Seasonal Depression + What To Look For

The most important way to treat seasonal affective disorder is something called light therapy that tries to compensate for the lack of natural sunlight in the winter months. Decades of research have shown that light therapy can improve the symptoms of approximately 60 percent of patients, according to UpToDate.

Here’s how Harvard Medical School works: The bright light stimulates the retina, the back of the eyelids that sends messages to the brain via optical nerve. This activates hypothalamus in the brain, which helps control your circadian rhythms. This helps to combat the drowsiness and excessive fatigue associated with seasonal depression.

But do not put on your desk lamp and expect to notice an improvement. Light therapy requires special light, called light boxes, which is about 20 times lighter than your usual indoor light, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.

A good light box should:

You should also consider how and when you plan to use it. Different models can be attached to walls or placed on the table. Consider some time during your morning routine when you can be in a place for at least 20 minutes, like drinking coffee on your dining table or applying make-up in front of the mirror in the bathroom. Select a lightbox model that works with these locations.

An exciting and newer alternative is a dawn simulation lightbox. These light boxes often doubles as alarm clocks. Half an hour before the alarm extinguishes, these light boxes start to emit a low light and the brightness gradually increases until it reaches full brightness to simulate the sunrise when the alarm goes out. Many offer soothing sound options too, so you can start your day with faux sunlight * and * the birds quit.

If you need help choosing a light box, do not be afraid to get in touch with your doctor. They may have recommendations, as well as other tips for soothing seasonal affective disease.

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