Do you find yourself feeling low over the winter months? You might be suffering from a common condition called Seasonal Affective Disorder...

What is S.A.D?

S.A.D (short for Seasonal Affective Disorder) is a type of depression which tends to be more severe during the darker, winter months.  It is thought to affect around 2 million people here in the UK, with symptoms most likely to develop between the ages of 18 and 30.

What are the symptoms of S.A.D?

S.A.D. is sometimes known as the ‘winter blues’, but for some people the symptoms can be much more debilitating than that term suggests. Symptoms can vary in intensity; some people simply feel a little ‘blue’, while other people might feel so depressed that they cannot get out of bed. Signs of S.A.D can include the following:

  • Fatigue
  • Low mood
  • Loss of interest in activities you normally enjoy
  • Craving for carbohydrates
  • Difficulty in getting up in the morning
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Irritability

 

What causes S.A.D?

Many scientists believe that there is a correlation between S.A.D symptoms and reduced sunlight levels during the darker months.

It is thought that the decreased amounts of sunlight affect the function of the hypothalamus in the brain. This section of the brain controls the production of hormones like melatonin and serotonin. Most researchers believe that S.A.D symptoms may result from an excessive production of melatonin (associated with the onset of sleep), leading to symptoms like fatigue. Lack of sunlight is also thought to lead to lower levels of the hormone serotonin (associated with mood regulation). Lower levels of serotonin is a known cause of depression. 

Other possible causes of S.A.D are disruption of the circadian rhythm (body clock) and genetic (some people believe that the condition runs in families).

S.A.D symptoms are not always caused by the change in seasons; they can also be caused by factors such as moving to a darker home or office.

What is the treatment for S.A.D?

If your symptoms are severe, make sure you see your G.P. They may recommend a range of treatments from cognitive behavioural therapy, mindfulness to antidepressants. Regular exercise and a healthy diet is always helpful. If your symptoms are mild or if you are unsure whether you have S.A.D, you may benefit from trying light therapy

Getting as much light as possible is important for anyone with S.A.D. This could be anything from sitting near a window to walking to work rather than taking the Tube on a dry day.

A light box is a popular S.A.D treatment. Many people find that these devices help them to feel more cheerful and energised. Light boxes may also benefit those with M.E. or C.F.S - read more here.

Light boxes are usually used for a short period each day in the morning, but treatment times can vary according to the brightness of the light and severity of your condition. These light boxes are used in the similar way to a desk or table lamp, but are much brighter. The brightness of the light is measured in lux, and light boxes designed for treating S.A.D emit 10,000 lux or more. All of our light boxes are from manufacturers recommended by SAD.org, for your peace of mind.

Dawn simulator wake-up clocks are also available and may help people to adjust their circadian rhythm to changes in light levels, but they are not a treatment for S.A.D.

Light boxes often improve S.A.D symptoms as the bright light triggers your brain to release more serotonin and less melatonin.

How can I try light therapy to see if it works for me?

Unfortunately light therapy boxes are not available on the NHS. However, you can buy them here VAT exempt if you self-certify to suffer from S.A.D (you don't need a letter from your doctor to do this).

You can purchase a range of light boxes here in a variety of different strengths, or rent one to see if it helps to improve your symptoms.  Always check the instructions on the box before using your light box to ensure you are using it for the correct amount of time.

Are light boxes safe?

Light therapy boxes can be used by most people very safely. They have UV filters to remove any risk of eye or skin problems. However, you must make sure that your light box is approved for treating S.A.D. Using a light box is not recommended if you have an eye condition or are taking medications that increase your eyes' sensitivity to light. Speak to your GP if you are unsure if light therapy is suitable for you. 

The results of light therapy are short-term, so light boxes are not a permanent fix. However, they can help give you a boost and lift your symptoms.


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Seasonal Affective Disorder Infographic


References:

NHS Information on Seasonal Affective Disorde

Recommended light box manufacturers by SAD.org

Please note: Information included in this website is not to be used as a substitute for consultation with a medical practitioner.