NATURAL LIGHT: WHAT YOUR
Does the lack of sunlight in the winter influence your mood? Do you feel sleepier, fatigued or hungry? You are not alone. Our bodies crave natural light. It helps us to feelbetter. When it starts to get gray and dreary outside, our bodies respond to this change. And it isn'tjust the winter months that can bring this on. When we spend too much time under artificial lighting, asin offices or at home, the same results can occur. Because we feel "blah", our productivity and sense ofwell being is compromised.
Color and intensity of light influence our human rhythms and impact our health and well-being. When weare exposed to the dimness or "whiteness" of artificial fluorescent lights, as well as when we lacknatural daylight, our pineal glands can over produce melatonin. This indicates to our body it's time to goto sleep. This can increase both mental and physical fatigue. We just don't feel "sharp". Some peoplejust don't get the winter blues, but get a condition known as Seasonal Affective Disorder, a moreserious mood disorder that is characterized by seasonal changes. A deficiency of natural light can leadto SAD. (* see Winter Blues: Norman Rosenthal 1993)
Exposure to artificial light has been associated with a decrease in the absorption of calcium, fatigue,decrease in visual acuity changes in heart rate, blood pressure brain wave patterns, hormonal secretionsand the body' natural cyclical rhythms. (Dadd 1996 Home Safe Home) Some studies indicate thatexposure to artificial light can lead to a decrease in attention span and learning difficulties in children.
SOLUTIONS: TURNING ON THE POWER OF NATURE
There are many solutions to increasing our exposure to natural light and "turning off" the negativeeffects of artificial light and winter dimness. Aside from a sunny vacation a few solutions include:
What is SAD?
SAD or Seasonal Affective Disorder is a form of depression that effects millions of people each falland winter. It can strike young and old alike and appears to effect women more often than men. Oftencalled the "winter blues," SAD symptoms can range from mild to severe. The hallmark of SAD is thatdepressive symptoms begin appearing during the fall months (usually Sept and Oct.) and "disappear"come May or June.
Typical symptoms include:
SAD is caused by a lack of exposure to sunlight, which in turn alters our brain chemistry. Lack ofsunlight inhibits the production of an important mood regulator called seratonin. When seratonin is notreleased in sufficient qualities, depressive symptoms may occur. Melatonin, another important brainchemical which regulates our sleep cycle, is released in greater quantities, adding to the depressivestate.
Are there solutions?
For over 15 years this phenomenon has been studied by researchers all over the world.Scientific study has pointed to the benefit of bright light therapy as a means of combatting SAD. Thetheory is that by increasing exposure to light, more seratonin is produced and less melatonin, thusimproving one's mood by putting the brain "back on line."
Bright light therapy is delivered by the use of specially designed light boxes. Intensity of light andexposure time are the two important variables in this equation. Light intensity is measured in "Lux".Convential wisdom points to the exposure at that 10,000 lux for 15-30 minutes a day at 20 inches canrebalance the brain chemicals. Results do vary and individuals often need to experiment with theintensity and time to find the right exposure rate.
Word of caution:
One should never stare directly into the light box. But most light boxes contain a special UV filter which protects one from overexposure to UV light.Make sure your purchase meets all UL UV standards.
How do I know if I could benefit from bright light therapy?
Many people are benefiting from the use of bright light boxes, however, it is recommended that you consult your primary care physician prior to beginning this type of therapy. Somepeople should not use bright light therapy, especially those on certain medications, includinganti-depressants and heart medication. Certain illnesses also manifest themselves with depressivesymptoms similar to Winter Depression, so its best to get checked out by a health professional.
Norman Rosenthal M.D.
1. Winter Blues: Seasonal Affective Disorder: What It Is and How to Overcome It, Guilford Press
2. Seasons of the Mind, Bantam Books,
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