Feeling SAD? Light Can Help Your Seasonal Affective Disorder

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It gets harder and harder to get out of bed. You either want to sleep all the time, or insomnia won’t leave you alone. Either way, coffee doesn’t have its usual kick and you don’t really feel like doing anything. 

It gets dark early and it can take days before you actually see a bit of sunshine. Holidays are coming, but you don’t feel like celebrating. You don’t feel like doing anything, actually – not even the things you usually enjoy. You just want to sit there until these blues blow over.

If this sounds familiar, you may be suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), also known as seasonal depression. 

How Does SAD Affect You?

The easiest way to explain seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is to call it depression that appears seasonally – usually during wintertime. Some people experience SAD in summertime, as well, but it seems that the symptoms are the most severe in winter months. 

The SAD symptoms are similar to those of a depressive episode:

  • Feeling no pleasure doing activities that are usually enjoyable
  • Experiencing a constant low mood
  • Disturbances in usual sleeping patterns (sleeping too much or too little)
  • Gaining weight 
  • Craving carbs
  • Irritability
  • Feelings of helplessness, hopelessness or guilt
  • Feelings of low self-worth

It is still unclear why SAD happens and how it works. What we know so far is that it is linked to exposure to sunlight. With fall and winter days being shorter, SAD becomes a more frequent occurrence. 

The main theory is that a lack of sunlight might cause discrepancies in your circadian rhythm, as well as irregularities in the production of melatonin and serotonin.

How Do You Fight SAD?

There are several treatments available today for seasonal affective disorder. The best option is to discuss it with your GP, but there are some things you can do on your own. The main treatments include:

  • Counselling
  • Antidepressants 
  • Exposure to sun
  • Light therapy

Counselling will help you alleviate the symptoms and make you better equipped to deal with your SAD. Antidepressants will establish better serotonin production, and in that way eliminate the feelings of sadness and similar depression symptoms. Light therapy will stimulate sunlight and help your body cope better with the lack of the natural light.

Besides these treatment options, there are also some lifestyle changes you can start incorporating today:

  • Regular, even light exercise (walking, dancing, swimming – anything that moves your entire body)
  • Going out during noon hours and getting some sun exposure
  • Let as much sun into your home as possible
  • Reduce other sources of stress
  • Reach out to your friends or support groups
  • Do your best to have a healthy diet

How Does Light Affect Your Mood?

The way light affects your mood is based on our circadian rhythm. The sun emits light of many wavelengths. Those wavelengths correspond to different colors. In the morning and in the evening, red light is dominant, while blue hues dominate the noon.

Our bodies have evolved to react to light and color. We decode blue light as a signal to be active and red light as signals to calm down, recuperate, and re-energize. 

This means that you can use light to affect your mood and help relieve the symptoms of SAD. This is called phototherapy. The idea behind it is to replace the light hours you miss out on during the overcast fall and winter months.

Knowing this, it comes as no surprise that light therapy is effective in 85% of SAD cases, according to Dr. Bijlani

The research shows that there are two major ways to treat SAD with phototherapy:

  1. White light
  2. Dawn simulation light

While a lightbox is usually the primary treatment option. In most cases, it is a LED light with at least 2,500 lux (ideally 10,000 lux) and the treatment consists of 30-minute exposure in the morning. The lightbox needs to block UV light. 

The dosage and the lux of the box are prone to changes. You don’t have to stare directly into the box, but to have it at around 12 inches from the front of your face while you do your morning routine. You should experience the effects within two weeks.

Dawn simulator acts as a sort of light alarm clock. It increases the amount of light in the morning, so it simulates the sun rising. Over 30 minutes, you wake up under the same effects as if it were a sunny summer morning. 

This means that light therapy treats the issues caused by the disturbed circadian rhythm and lack of sunlight, and attempts to restore it.

There are still other issues characteristic for the SAD. That’s where red light therapy comes into play.

Is Red Light Therapy Good for Seasonal Affective Disorder?

Red light therapy is a great way to treat SAD. Among the main causes for SAD are faulty melatonin and serotonin production. Red light therapy is an excellent drug-free way of regulating the hormonal and neurotransmitter levels – melatonin and serotonin, included.

Melatonin is a so-called “sleep hormone.” It is produced by your pituitary gland and it prepares your body for deep, restorative sleep. Oregon Health and Science University (OHSU) determined that melatonin helps alleviate the symptoms of the winter depression. Red light therapy boosts melatonin levels, which makes it a great option for treating SAD.

The way red light therapy boosts serotonin levels is very interesting. As much as 95% of serotonin is produced due to gut bacteria. This is a part of the, so-called, gut-brain axis. The gut microbiome is very active and it signals different information to the nervous system and vice versa. It’s a powerful system that determines our health and wellness levels.

By treating your gut with red light therapy,  you will enable proper serotonin production and help relieve your SAD symptoms. 

How to Do Red Light Therapy at Home?

To do red light therapy at home, you will need a good and powerful red light therapy device. Just like you would pick a light box based on specifics, you should choose your red light therapy device based on several important features. These include:

  • The proper wavelength
  • Energy density
  • Irradiation
  • Size and ease of use

FlexBeam will tick all of these boxes and you can even take it on your travels or use it while you work, rest, cook or even exercise. It comes with convenient straps that fasten it on the appropriate place on your body and it automatically turns off once the 10-minute session is complete.

Discover how FlexBeam works and how it can help you throughout the year.

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