January 9, 2020

SAD and Light Therapy

As the holidays are wrapping up and the decorations are coming down, it’s normal to feel a bit blue, but these sad feelings should resolve on their own in a day or two. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that recurs in a pattern, usually during the fall and/or winter, and lasts several months. Symptoms of SAD include feelings of hopelessness, decreased energy, change in appetite, cravings for foods high in carbohydrates, weight gain, excess sleeping, irritability, and withdrawing. SAD can develop at any time in a person’s life and has even been observed in children. Women are four times more likely to develop this disorder than men. There are some well-known treatments currently available, such as antidepressants, vitamin D supplementation and psychotherapy. Another treatment, called light therapy, has been gaining popularity in recent years as many people are looking for alternatives or adjuncts to pharmacotherapy.

What exactly is a “lightbox”? A lightbox (aka light therapy lamp or SAD lamp) is a device used to treat SAD by exposing its user to simulated natural light to make up for the reduced sunshine of the fall and winter months. Exposure to this light increases the production of a hormone called serotonin and suppresses the production of another hormone, melatonin. Serotonin deficiency and melatonin excess are related to symptoms of SAD. Symptoms of SAD may be alleviated by exposure to lightbox light daily upon waking for 20-60 minutes from the early fall until spring. It is best to sit 16-24 inches away from the lightbox, with the eyes open, but not looking directly into the light. When choosing a lightbox, it is most important to select one that emits 10, 000 lux of light and emits no ultraviolet (UV) light. Your doctor may be able to recommend a lightbox to you, but it does not require a prescription. Some individuals should not use light therapy due to certain pre-existing conditions or interactions with medications, so you should always consult your doctor before purchasing a lightbox.

If you are experiencing symptoms of SAD, be sure to get exercise daily, ensure your diet is balanced and nutritious, and talk to someone you trust. In addition to these healthy lifestyle choices, you may want to consider adding light therapy to your daily routine. Ask your doctor for more information – light therapy could be the missing ingredient in your mental wellness regime!

National Institute of Mental Health “Seasonal Affective Disorder
Mayo Clinic “Seasonal affective disorder treatment: Choosing a light therapy box
What is Psychology? “Does Light Therapy Help Against Seasonal Affective Disorder?

By Rachel Hughes, RN

ARTACares is provided by HumanaCare, an Alberta-based health and wellness provider with more than thirty-five years of Canadian health care experience.