Light Therapy for Seasonal Affective Disorder
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), otherwise known as the ‘winter blues’ affects around 7 per cent of the population every winter between September and April, particularly during December, January and February, bringing about symptoms such as difficultly sleeping, anxiety, over eating and mood changes among other side effects.
As well as traditional methods of treatment such as counselling, various alternative methods are available for the treatment of SAD one of which is light therapy. Light therapy involves exposure to a very bright light at least ten times the intensity of ordinary domestic lighting for up to four hours per day.
Recently the company Lumie, who have been manufacturing products to combat SAD since 1993 carried out research which revealed that aside from SAD sufferers, 72 per cent of people said they felt more productive at work in summer than in winter, with 93 per cent admitting to eating more comfort foods in winter and 88 per cent of people believing they gained more weight in the winter.
Professor of Circadian Neuroscience at the University of Oxford, Russell Foster, says there are real physiological reasons for why we feel the way we do during the winter.
”All of our body’s systems run to a certain rhythm — be it our digestion, our brain, our muscles, our metabolism or our capacity to sleep — and the reason why they know when to do what is because we expose the body to sunlight. Receptors in the eye register the presence of light so the body knows when it’s day and when it’s night.”
However, throughout winter when there is less daylight, these signals are much weaker, explains Professor Foster.
Over the past few years treatments which aim to recreate the power of natural sunlight have grown in popularity. For instance the Ajala Spa at the Grange St Paul Hotel in London have recently introduced a ‘Real Sunlight Room’ which uses powerful lights that mimic the sun, minus the high UV rays and is said to improve everything from acne to arthritis.
Professor Foster has recommended that everyone make the most of the sunlight they do have. For example even if it is a cloudy day outside, make an effort to go outside at lunchtime to get some fresh air and natural light.