Who has not experienced a feeling of great happiness when exposed to natural light, to bright sunlight? Don’t you feel invigorated, refreshed, rested? And wouldn’t you love to feel this sense of well-being every day through the year?
But once winter sets in, you begin to feel the weariness of the great periods of darkness. Come February: you need to hand over some tasks and projects the next day, but lack energy? Would you rather relax on the couch than go about your daily routine? Are you having trouble getting up in the morning to get to work, and snack on more and more foods rich in carbohydrates to give you energy? You might just be suffering from a condition that affects 30% of us, who can become bogged down worrying and in some cases, quite depressed.
Fortunately, there is a non-invasive therapy that can alleviate or eliminate these difficult symptoms before they become serious, and sometimes without the addition of medication. It has been during the last 25 years that the knowledge concerning the influence of seasons on mood and well-being has been developed and put forward by Dr. Norman E. Rosenthal, a psychiatrist at the National Institute of Mental Health in Maryland. He demonstrated that the loss of energy and vitality that we feel the autumn to spring is not a manifestation of an underlying psychological problem.
Indeed, the reduction of light caused by seasonal changes stimulates the pineal gland at the back of the brain that secretes melatonin, the hormone commonly called “sleep hormone”. Not surprising then that the lower light levels sap your energy! An estimated 10 million Americans and many Europeans suffer from seasonal affective disorder, or winter blues. On the other hand, 14% of the adult population suffers from a milder form of seasonal affective disorder: the winter blues.
In addition to curbing the secretion of melatonin, exposure to light can increase the production of serotonin, a molecule with antidepressant properties also responsible for regulating functions such as food and sexual behavior.
There are safe light therapy devices, designed for domestic use that can give you a daily dose of light that you miss, thus inhibiting the secretion of melatonin and curbing this lethargy. A device for light therapy usually consists of a metal frame 60 cm long and 45 cm high, containing a white fluorescent bulb, in a setting of the full spectrum from 2500 to 10000 lux, placed behind a screen equipped with a UV filter to filter out ultraviolet light bulbs.
How to Use Light Therapy
- Install your bright light in an appropriate place at home or at work.
- Sit in front of this lamp for an appointment (between 20 and 90 minutes per day).
- Make sure the light covers your field of vision.
- Repeat this appointment every day to avoid during the season, and beyond if possible.
Caution: It is desirable that a person who undertakes a treatment light therapy for seasonal affective disorder is controlled by a physician or other qualified therapist, to have a clear diagnosis and monitoring. If relatively mild symptoms occur, the person can start a treatment for two weeks to determine if it improves his condition. If problems persist, you should consult her doctor immediately.
What Should I Expect from Light Therapy?
“The first sensations are physical, a sort of physical relief, calm, or increased energy,” says Dr. Rosenthal. “There may be a feeling of butterflies in the stomach or tingling in your hands. Within days, people feel a very important problem is being solved by them.”
In the best case, the symptoms of seasonal affective disorder disappear one after another. One patient said, “In three days, I had the problem of a lifetime; until then, I only lived half my life – just six months of a year.”
Is there an advantage to start light therapy treatment early in the winter?
Dr. Rosenthal believes it is wiser to begin treatment as soon as the first symptoms of SAD appear.
Any side effects or dangers with light therapy?
Those who might be reluctant to use light therapy can take comfort in thinking that such devices have been used for over 20 years, and that their effectiveness has been demonstrated in many studies.
Light therapy devices are equipped with certified filters to remove ultraviolet and infrared radiation. The most common side effects are headache and dry eyes. In these cases it is simply to reduce the dose or away from the lamp a little while or decrease the exposure time.
It is also advisable to consult your ophthalmologist if one has a macular degeneration, retinopathy, glaucoma, cataracts or a disease that can cause eye damage (e.g., diabetes).
There are also “alarm clock” devices called “dawn simulators” that gradually increase light levels during sleep to waking.