I believe most people reading this have a good sense of what Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is and how it can wreak havoc on many of us this time of the year.
For those unfamiliar, wikipedia defines SAD as “a mood disorder subset in which people who have normal mental health throughout most of the year exhibit depressive symptoms at the same time each year, most commonly in winter.”
Dr. Norman E. Rosenthal, author of Winter Blues, is the world-renowned researcher and psychiatrist who led the team that first described Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and pioneered light therapy to treat it. Dr. Rosenthal has found that about 1 in 20 people in the U.S. has SAD.
Turns out some people need more light than others. For those, the darker and shorter days adversely affects mood and behavior. One can better manage SAD through exercise, stress reduction and trying light therapy. Light therapy can help one maintain healthy sleeping and eating habits that guide the body through it’s natural rhythms.
One of Rosenthal’s patients described themselves as feeling like a bear in the winter and wanting to hibernate. “So if you feel any identification with a hibernating bear, you might well have SAD,” he says. Women are about four times more vulnerable than men, and the condition is more common in the Northern Hemisphere.NPR
The Mayo Clinic lists the following as symptoms specific to winter-onset SAD.
- Appetite changes, especially a craving for foods high in carbohydrates
- Weight gain
Other symptoms can include:
- Having problems with sleeping
- Experiencing changes in your appetite or weight
- Feeling sluggish or agitated
- Having difficulty concentrating
- Feeling hopeless, worthless or guilty
- Having frequent thoughts of death or suicide (National Suicide Prevention Lifeline — 800-273-8255)
Treatment options for SAD include light therapy, medications and psychotherapy.
Why Does SAD Occur
It is believed that a change in photoperiod, which is the number of daylight hours, is at the root of SAD. According to Kelly Rohan, a professor of psychological science at the University of Vermont, photoperiod is believed to have more of an influence on mood than the overcast skies we see in the northwest, or the colder temperatures. Fewer hours of light is believed to affect the circadian clocks of people with SAD, leaving them out of sync with their natural rhythms. Light therapy (best delivered first thing in the morning) is believed to kick those circadian rhythms back into a normal cycle.
Current consensus is that light therapy is most effective in the early morning (based on the fact that most cases of SAD have a phase delay) and that an intensity as close to 10000 lux as possible should be used for a minimum of 30 minutes at a time. Time to response is usually between two to four days and three weeks and the specifics of duration and intensity can be adjusted depending on response and side-effects.Progress in Neurology and Psychiatry
Things to consider in a lamp:
- Brightness of at least 10,000 lux
- UV-blocking technology
- Surface area of lamp
Here are five light therapy lamps that may help you this winter.
Verilux HappyLight Full-Size – UV-Free Therapy Lamp
4.6 / 5 Stars
TaoTronics Light Therapy Lamp
4.9 / 5 Stars
Aura Day Light Lamp
4.4 / 5 Stars
Verilux HappyLight Touch
4.7 / 5 Stars
Miroco Light Therapy Lamp
4.8 / 5 Stars
Rosenthal says people with SAD have a tremendous appetite for carbohydrates. “They crave sweets and starches. And needless to say, that puts on weight, and they can’t always take it off in the summer, so every year they’re ratcheting up a little more, a little more, and it’s a real problem.”NPR
‘Tis The Season: Coping With SAD, Or Seasonal Affective Disorder / NPR
Light therapy lamps can ease seasonal depression. / Washington Post
The Best Light Therapy Lamp / Wirecutter