Seasonal affective disorder

Beating the Winter Blues: Sunlight is the Key to Seasonal Affective Disorder

August 9, 2017 242 22 No Comments


Dealing with a case of the winter blues? It’s difficult for some people to retain their energy levels and positive mood as the days grow shorter and the temperatures colder in the winter months. Mild cases are commonly referred to as the winter blues, while more severe cases may meet the criteria for Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a type of depression. Whether you have a mild case of the winter blues or have been diagnosed with Seasonal Affective Disorder, there are several ways to address the root cause of SAD and alleviate your symptoms.


Sunlight: A Primary Contributor to Seasonal Affective Disorder
In the winter, the days are shorter, meaning that you’re exposed to less natural sunlight than you are during the long, warm summer months. This reduced exposure to natural sunlight is believed to be responsible for changes in the body that can lead to depression, including reduced levels of serotonin, a disruption in the balance of melatonin in the body which impacts sleep and mood, and a disruption in your body’s circadian rhythm, or biological clock.


Finally, sunlight aids the body in producing Vitamin D, an essential nutrient that impacts immune health and aids in regulating mood, helping to combat anxiety and depression. Because a reduction in exposure to natural light is a primary contributor to SAD, many people can better manage their symptoms simply by taking steps to increase their exposure to sunlight.

Spend More Time Outdoors 
The most obvious way to increase your exposure to natural sunlight is to spend more time outdoors during the day. However, with busy work schedules and other demands, many people find themselves leaving the house before dawn and returning after sunset during the shortest days of the year, meaning you may need to get creative to spend more time in the sun this winter.

Try taking a walk over your lunch break or planning outings on the weekends when the weather is nice. Take your kids out sledding on a snowy day. Open the curtains in your kitchen and other areas of your home where you spend a lot of time during the day. By making a few tweaks to your daily habits, you can get more natural sunlight during the cold winter months.

Fake It with Light Therapy
If getting outdoors to soak up the natural sunlight isn’t feasible, all is not lost. There are artificial means for increasing your exposure to light. One such method is light therapy, which uses a special light box that emits light that’s similar to natural sunlight.

It’s not something that will take hours of your day, either. In fact, most people sit in front of a light box for just 15 to 30 minutes per day for a noticeable benefit. Depending on the severity of your SAD and any other unique circumstances, your doctor may recommend that you start with more or less time to get the most benefits from light therapy.

Try a Dawn Simulator
dawn simulator is like an alarm clock, but it wakes you up with light that increases in intensity rather than loud, obnoxious noise. As its name suggests, the increasing light intensity is designed to mimic that of the natural sunrise, giving you the experience of waking up to a glorious, bright sunrise like you would in the summer.

There are several dawn simulators available, but for people who suffer from SAD, simulators with full-spectrum lighting are best as they most closely mimic true sunlight. In fact, one study found that dawn simulators were equally as effective as light therapy for people who have mild SAD.

If left undiagnosed and untreated, the symptoms of SAD can have a substantial impact on your day-to-day life, even increasing your risk of substance abuse. Using these strategies to increase your exposure to light can help to combat some of the symptoms associated with SAD. If SAD is taking over your life, seek the help of a psychologist or health professional who can help you work through your diagnosis and develop effective coping strategies.

Article written by Laura Baker

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