The winter blues (a.k.a. Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD) can hit us hard at times. If you feel you are generally in a good mood, but occasionally experience the blues during the winter months, light therapy may help.
A lack of daylight during winter may cause serotonin deficiencies. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter in the human body that regulates mood, sleep, and digestion. Daylight promotes serotonin production; thus, low exposure (i.e. spending most of our time indoors when it’s cold out, combined with fewer daylight hours) will impact serotonin levels causing low moods. Some researchers even believe this is the main reason why we tend to have more sleep problems, lethargy or low energy, an inability to concentrate, urges to overeat (especially sugar and high-carb foods), social problems, anxiety, loss of libido, and mood changes each winter.
Aside from spending more time outdoors during the day or investing in full-spectrum lighting that has the same quality of light as the sun in order to get more light (both excellent options), you can also try using a “light box” made specifically for bright light therapy. Bright light therapy is proven to be an effective treatment for SAD. A few tips on choosing and using a light box:
Look for a light box that emits 10,000 lux (“lux” is a measure of light intensity), which is 20 times more light than a standard indoor lightbulb, and has the ability to block damaging UV rays.
Place the light box about 2 feet away from your eyes either at eye level or above (to mimic being outside in the sunlight). Position it about 45-degrees to the right or left from your eyes – at the 2 o’clock or 10 o’clock position (so not directly in front of your eyes).
Use it every morning as close to when you wake up as possible. Start with 20 to 30 minutes for a week to see if it helps boost your mood and energy. If you’re not feeling any differences, try extending for up to 60 minutes every morning. Consistency is the key here! Daily use increases likelihood of seeing improvements. You can have this light on as you eat your breakfast, check your email, read a book or newspaper, etc.
If you often experience the winter blues, start using the light box in the early fall and throughout the winter.
While risk of eye damage from bright light is low, anyone with diabetes (which can damage the retina) or a pre-existing eye disease should check with their eye doctor before trying this type of light therapy. Also, do not use a light box if you’re taking any photosensitive medication (if in doubt, check with your pharmacist).
Holford, Patrick. "New Optimum Nutrition for the Mind." Laguna Beach, CA: Basic Health Publications, 2009. 160-1. Print.
Miller, Michael Craig, M.D. "Seasonal Affective Disorder: Bring on the Light." Blog post. Harvard Health Publications. Harvard Medical School, 21 Dec. 2012. Web. 30 Jan. 2017. <http://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/seasonal-affective-disorder-bring-on-the-light-201212215663>.
Wel, Marlynn, M.D., J.D. "10 Tips to Get the Most Out of Light Therapy." The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 17 Jan. 2017. Web. 30 Jan. 2017. <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/marlynn-wei-md-jd/10-ways-to-get-the-most-out-of-light-therapy_b_8932782.html>.