Monday, January 02, 2006

Brighten Up Your Life - Author: John R. Cook, Ph.D.

Do you feel down in the dumps, have less energy and put on a few pounds during the dark, shorter days of winter? You may be suffering from the "winter blues" or a more severe form of the winter blues called Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD. One in five of us suffers from this problem. Symptoms can include an increase in sleep of up to four hours a day, a serious case of the munchies, and a desire to withdraw, almost like a bear entering hibernation for the winter.

In 60 to 80 percent of cases, the cure for this potentially disabling condition is to make up for the reduced daylight hours in winter through daily exposure to a photo-therapy lamp or SAD light. There are two types of SAD lights to choose from, high intensity and low intensity.

High intensity SAD lights (e.g., Uplift Technologies) are UV-filtered fluorescent lamps with low flicker ballasts that generate light about 20 times brighter than the average home or office. Low intensity SAD lights (e.g., Litebook) use LED arrays to emit blue light. Blue light suppresses the sleep hormone melatonin believed to be involved in causing SAD.

High intensity lamps are used by sitting 12 to 15 inches in front of and slightly below them, with eyes averted downward. Position and distance are less critical with low intensity lights, although it is still important to maintain an unobstructed pathway to your eyes. Carry on eating, reading or writing as you normally would.

Treatment for most people should begin in the fall and continue through till April when the outdoor light is sufficient to provide for their needs. An early start on photo-therapy in the fall can reduce or even prevent symptoms of winter SAD. Exposure periods range from 20 to 45 minutes a day, preferably in the early morning.

Besides its beneficial properties in treating seasonal depressions, bright light can also be helpful with seasonal overeating and weight gain that occur without depressed mood. Some non-seasonal depressions, sleep problems, and effects of jet-lag can also be treated with light therapy. Although side effects are rare, they can include headaches, eye strain, irritability or anxiety, and restlessness.

Before diagnosing yourself with SAD, and running out to buy a SAD light, see your family physician. He or can she tell you if there are any contraindications to using the lights such as eye disease or taking light-sensitive medication. Your physician can also help diagnose medical disorders that masquerade as SAD. These include underactive thyroid function, low blood sugar, and chronic viral infections.

Next, consider renting a lamp for two weeks to find out if the treatment is effective. Although the response rate for high intensity SAD lights is high (less is known about the efficacy of low intensity lights), you could be one of the non-responders. As a final consideration, find a reputable dealer who will allow you to apply the rental payments toward the purchase price.

About the Author:

Dr. Cook is a registered clinical psychologist in the Province of British Columbia (registration 1025), and founder of Aegis Psychological Services Inc.. Find your path to peace and calm through Dr. Cook's home study programs, electronic motivational aids and light therapy products, and self-help links at

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