Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, is a form of depression that is related to the seasons, in particular a lack of sunlight. You may have noticed feeling more upbeat and happier in the summer whilst feeling more lethargic and suffering from a case of the ‘Winter Blues’ in the winter months. Whilst this may be normal to a slight degree and not interfere with your day, for some it can become debilitating.
For myself, having battled depression in the past for numerous years, I am quite in tune to my body and know that I personally struggle through the winter months. Whilst this wasn’t too much of an issue in Australia as there was enough access to daylight, here in the UK the day lengths (on average in winter “daylight” is 6-7 hours, and even then the clouds and rain can block most of the light) and weather prove to be a bigger issue.
Why does SAD occur?
Without getting enough access to daylight, your body struggles to regulate your body clock/circadian rhythm due to a deprivation of light. With a lack of light, the body’s production of melatonin increases (which is responsible for sleep) and it can influence serotonin levels (responsible for mood, appetite, and energy levels) – and when these are out of balance the following symptoms (including weight gain) can occur.
What are the symptoms of SAD?
The symptoms of SAD (always seek doctors confirmation to be sure) are the same as depression, however SAD usually goes away when the longer days return. The common symptoms are:
- General feeling of Depression
- Social issues such as not wanting to see others or being easily irritated
- Fatigue, lack of energy, or lethargy
- Unable to continue with general routine
- Sleep disturbances sleeping too much, and/or insomnia
- Lack or loss of libido
- Trouble concentrating
- Sugar and carbohydrate cravings – and overeating
- Weight gain
SAD symptoms often go away when we get access to more sunlight when the winter months are over, however depending on your geographical location SAD can be an ongoing issue for 5+ months of the year. Whilst there is no cure to fix everyone, the use of a SAD light may be a safe and suitable alternative for you.
How can a SAD light help & how to use it?
A SAD light is a light therapy box which can be used for treating SAD (also used for other health conditions including M.E). By using a SAD light in the earlier part of the day (and not within 4 hours of bedtime) it triggers your body to produce the correct level of hormones (particularly reducing the production of melatonin) that are needed in order to feel energised and ready to take on the day. Each type of light is different, however for the best results are with a light with a frequency of 10,000 lux. The light boxes are different to simply staring at a normal light as it controls the amount of light/brightness, the frequency, and the light is a cool white light with a filter for ultraviolet rays making it safe for the eyes.
Using a SAD light is simple. Each light comes with its own instructions for time and frequency, however a general guideline is to sit in front of the light, with the light at eye level, and about an arms distance away, for 30 minutes in the morning. You dont need to constantly stare in to the light, just looking at it occassionally is sufficient as being this close to the light allows enough light to shine in to your eyes (use the time wisely: have brekky, journal, read a book etc)
You may notice significant benefits immediately, after a few weeks, or for some not at all. Fortunately for me I have been using my SAD light for a solid month now (I used the Diamond 5 Light box), and even after the first session I was hooked – my sleep was better, my energy levels greater, I noticed I didn’t snack as often and on days where I missed my morning session I noticed a real physical difference – sluggish, sleepy, and constantly reaching for food to try boost my moos. The use of a SAD light has been tremendously helpful for me and will continue to be something I use through the British winter months.
Also, its interesting to note that pets also can benefit greatly for SAD light therapy. Animals are naturally intuitive so after having noticed my pooch constantly choosing to get off her mat and join in on my morning SAD light sessions (later moving my morning session to her mat for her convenience), I did some research only to find that this was a common thing. So, if you have a SAD light, and you’ve noticed your pooch being a bit lazier, sleeping more, and needing more attention (or more distant) it could be worth seeing if they benefit from SAD light sessions. I noticed immediately my dog bouncing up the stairs afterwards whereas she’s normally a one stair at a time kinda dog, and she also appears to be extra playful.
If you are interested in getting a SAD light, but aren’t sure you are ready to fully commit (or know how your body will respond), I truly recommend checking out The Healthy house. They have options to rent the lights for a month, as well as rent to buy options. Plus the service and advice is super friendly (disclaimer: I have not been paid for this post!).
P.S. For those of you who want to beat the winter blues or get some extra love and sunshine in your life check out my beautiful retreat near Byron Bay in Australia in May this year.
Sending you so much love and light,