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Light up your winter moods                                            November 2009 


light up your winter moodsMy goodness, it is winter again! Every year Christmas seems to come around more quickly and this year especially the dark nights seem to have suddenly appeared.

The clocks have changed, the weather is getting colder, and we will have to get used to dark mornings and short days for many months ahead. For some, winter can be a very difficult time because they suffer from SAD. This stands for Seasonal Affective Disorder, often known as winter blues, and it is now recognised as a medical problem.

SAD causes a range of symptoms, depression certainly, but it can also manifest itself in sleep problems, lethargy and even overeating. The exact causes of SAD aren’t fully understood but it is thought to be related to light – the amount of daylight we are exposed to and especially bright daylight during autumn and winter. Light affects our body clock and many believe that light stimulates the hypothalamus in the brain and various activities. These include an increase in the production of melatonin, causing us to feel sleepy, and a reduction in the production of serotonin. Serotonin has a role in lifting mood, and many believe that low levels of serotonin cause SAD.

If you believe you suffer from SAD, the best solution is a holiday or two to a bright sunny spot! However, for many of us, that is simply not possible in the middle of winter and it is certainly not available on the NHS! In the past treatment used to be through medication, but recent research has shown that SAD sufferers really do respond well to light treatment. By exposing yourself to bright light, the production of melatonin should be reduced and the production of serotonin increased. The aim is to obtain summertime levels of light during winter, and benefits are fast; most people feel better within 7-10 days of using light therapy.

Today there are a range of medically certified “SAD” lights available from health shops and other specialist centres that are designed to alleviate the symptoms of SAD.

The light used in these light boxes do not give a suntan or emit dangerous levels of uv. However, the light does need to be suitably bright – at least 2500 lux. Lux is the technical measurement of brightness and 2500 lux is around five times brighter than a well-lit office. Many recommend the light should be 10000 lux for real benefit to SAD; this is a very bright light indeed.

Historically, only full spectrum “white light” was thought to give the most positive response to people lacking sunshine; however recent research has shown that a particular bandwidthof blue light can also be effective.

There are also different lights and lightboxes for different situations; some are designed to sit on your office desk; others on your breakfast counter or in a convenient place in your home. A SAD light has to be registered with the Medical Devices Agency as required by European Union legislation (CE 0120, designed and built to conform to EN60601-1/-2, EC93/42, EC89/336, EN60598 and EN46002).

The best way forward if you think you are suffering from SAD is to talk to your doctor. However, there are also some specialist centres and shops that have well trained staff who can advise on the use of light boxes and winter lights.

A key area of information is at this is a small UK national voluntary organisation set up to support people suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder and their website contains a lot of information and advice.



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