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SAD – Seasonal Affective Disorder & Light Boxes

Many people experience the “winter blues” in one way or another, however if you find this affects you more regularly (each winter usually starting September to November, continuing until March or April) it is possible you are experiencing Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

SAD can begin at any age and may be triggered by other factors such as illness, childbirth or change of environment. Symptoms may include a number of the following:

  • Depression (low mood, negative thoughts and feelings, apathy)
  • Sleep problems and fatigue
  • Overeating
  • Increased irritability
  • Lethargy
  • Anxiety
  • Loss of libido
  • Winter illnesses

So what can we do to help ourselves? We can look at lifestyle, are we getting enough exercise? Sleeping enough? Balanced healthy diet? Magnesium and tryptophan rich foods in particular as well as the wonderful spice turmeric can all help. How I can help is by using essential oils and also light therapy. Firstly let’s look at two factors that are known to play a role in SAD or the “winter blues”; circadian rhythms and the neurotransmitter serotonin.

Circadian rhythms are physical, mental and behavioural changes in the body that respond primarily to light and darkness following a roughly 24-hour cycle. They are produced by natural factors within the body, as well as being affected by signals from our environment. Light is the main cue influencing circadian rhythms, turning on/off genes that control our internal clock, sleep-wake cycles, hormone release, body temperature and other important bodily functions; as well as being linked to various sleep disorders, such as insomnia, abnormal circadian rhythms have been associated with obesity, diabetes, depression, bipolar disorder and SAD.

Serotonin is a neurotransmitter responsible for healthy brain chemistry and other biological functions including appetite, sex drive, digestion, sleep and more. It is produced by the gut and the brain and 95% of it is stored in the enteric nervous system (ENS) which is located in the gut. This highlights one of the reasons why gut health and maintaining a healthy gut flora is important as the gut acts like a second brain. Low serotonin levels can impact on our health, happiness, sleep and wellbeing. If reduced sunlight can cause a drop in serotonin which affects mood then we can see why this could trigger depression and the “winter blues”.

There is plenty of research on how Light Therapy helps with SAD, in fact it’s medically recommended as treatment. Did you know that there are two different types of light known to help with this disorder? White Light (Full Spectrum) and Blue Light. The light emitted by the sun is made up of the full spectrum of colours (we see this when sunlight shines through rain and is split into the full spectrum, creating a rainbow), this is known as White Light.  The theory behind conventional full spectrum light boxes is that they replicate sunshine giving us a positive response when we lack sunshine, and they’ve been used to treat light deficiency disorders. Research and technology has since advanced showing that a particular bandwidth of blue light is also effective in treating SAD. Both White Light and Blue Light products can help with the “winter blues” with many studies into the effectiveness of both types. This is a clinically proven technology for the treatment of SAD.

A colleague of mine without realising had been suffering with some of the SAD symptoms. At work he would sleep under his desk during his lunch break and felt tired all the time, never fully rested or rejuvenated from sleeping, he felt drained and energy-less and lacking motivation particularly at work. He hadn’t considered SAD and when offered to borrow the Nikken KenkoLight for two weeks, he wasn’t convinced it would work or even be relevant but decided to “give it a go” anyway. He was amazed that within that two weeks he got better; his sleep improved, he woke in the morning having had a good night sleep, he had energy, felt happier and didn’t need to sleep under his desk anymore at lunchtimes! His wife appreciated the change too!

The Nikken KenkoLight has a slightly increased amount of Blue Light, and its overall distribution of light waves remain balanced and generally match the wavelength of natural sunlight. The KenkoLight is £120 and can be ordered by following this link to my Nikken webshop.

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