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Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD affects 5% of North Americans. One in five Americans is diagnosed with seasonal affective depression.
S.A.D. is much more complex than a case of the winter blues, but it can be loosely defined as a mood disorder that affects otherwise healthy people who suffer depressive episodes on a seasonal basis, usually in winter.
SAD is just as serious as any other mental health condition and should be treated seriously. If you feel like you are suffering depressive symptoms, like an ongoing low mood, irritability, difficulty sleeping, lack of appetite etc. It is critical that you go to a medical professional.
Milder cases of SAD might affect all of us. While the exact reasons aren’t known, shorter days, limited access to fresh fruit and vegetables as well as reduced daylight hours for exercise can all play a role in making us feel down during the colder months.
Source: Best Health Degrees
Light is key to blasting away winter sadness
These symptoms are just reserved for children either, SAD affects 2 million children in the US, age 9-17. Light is a critical factor here, one trigger for SAD can be the onset of shorter winter days that interfere with our regular circadian rhythm.
An interruption in our sleep patterns may cause problems with our bodies manufacturing melatonin, a hormone produced by our pineal gland that regulates wakefulness.
In the past, people have pointed to a drop in vitamin B levels as a trigger for SAD, however, recent research has shown that to be untrue.
Luckily there are many things we can do to mitigate the symptoms of SAD. While natural light might be hard to come by, especially if you live at the extreme ends of our planet, tech is here to help fill the gap.
There are many products that replicate different types of light. However, you need to be careful to expose yourself to the right light at the right time.
The right lamp at the right time
Research has shown that exposure to blue light in the morning can reduce sleepiness. If a laptop screen isn’t the most joyful morning experience, try using a ‘wake up’ lamp.
These lamps are timed to slowly increase their light output, shifting from dim red to bright yellow light, mimicking a natural sunrise.
In the evening avoid exposure to blue light, so several hours before bedtime, step away from your devices, especially smartphones and tablets.
The light from your smartphone has been shown in several studies to trigger feelings of wakefulness. Try and light your home with calm low lighting in the evening, that will create a sense of peace and sleepiness.
Candlelight is cozy, but smart lights that can be programmed to dim down in the evening are perfect too. Once you are in bed, don’t use your phone to check the time or to help find your way to the bathroom.
Put down your phone to get to sleep
Even glancing at your phone in the night is enough to send signals to your brain to tell it to wake up. Instead install some dim red nightlights that provide enough illumination so you won’t break your neck, but are dim enough that they won’t wake you up. For some people, just being aware of the type of light they are exposed to isn’t enough.
A common treatment for diagnosed SAD is artificial light therapy. This is a precise routine of exposure to light that mimics sunlight. You can increase your exposure to light at home too in simple ways.
The best light is cool tones that closely resemble the sun. For subtle treatment buy a special globe for your desk lamp, or get more serious with a sunlamp visor.
Critically, like many mental health conditions, getting good advice and sharing your experiences is key to good health.
Talking to your friends and family about your mental health is essential. And for those reading in the northern hemisphere, the first day of spring is near.