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Light Therapy and Seasonal Affective Disorder

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What is SAD

Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD is a "type of winter depression" which is thought to affect as many as two million people in the UK each winter between the months of September and March. A milder form is known as sub-syndromal sad and can affect the majority of the population at some time. This is sometimes known as the winter-blues.

What Are The Typical Symptoms

Although these can vary they will inevitably include some or all of the following:

Ÿ Depression with or without anxiety, lethargy, inability to cope.

Ÿ Sleep problems; waking up feeling un-refreshed, napping during the day, finding it hard to get going, and constant tiredness.

Ÿ Craving for carbohydrates or sweet foods which can lead to weight gain.

Ÿ Behavioural problems particularly in adolescents.

Ÿ Social/problems. Wanting to avoid company. Irritability, loss of libido (sex-drive).

Ÿ Physical symptoms; Stomach pains, joint pain, increased susceptibility to infections.

What Causes SAD

Very simply, SAD is caused by a lack of bright light particularly in the winter. When bright light enters the eye it has an effect of causing chemical changes which affect our circadian rhythm (or natural body clock). At dawn, bright light suppresses the production of melatonin, which makes us drowsy, and will also have an effect on the stimulation of serotonin. Low levels of serotonin are known to be a cause of depression.

What Treatments Are Available For SAD

Probably the best treatment for Seasonal Affective Disorder is taking a holiday in the sun. Unfortunately this is not always the most practical option for the majority of sufferers. In the past, the treatment involved the use of drugs. However in recent years, researchers in the USA and the UK have shown that SAD sufferers responded often quite dramatically to Bright Light Treatment.

This has been proved effective in up to 85% of diagnosed cases. Unfortunately ordinary light bulbs and fittings are not strong enough. The average domestic lighting produces an intensity of light of 200-500 lux. The minimum dose necessary to treat SAD is 2500lux. Light Treatment should be used daily in winter (and dull periods at other times of the year) and consists of sitting in front of a specially designed lightbox.

Do I Need To Stare At The Lightbox

The simple answer is no! Modern lightboxes are designed to that you can carry out normal activities such as eating, watching T.V, reading etc. You can even use a lightbox whilst exercising. There is a wide range of equipment on the market to suit every lifestyle. The normal treatment time will be from 20 minutes to two hours a day. It is therefore important that you seek advice from an established lightbox company to advise on the best lightbox for your lifestyle.

Can Lightboxes Be Used For Any Other Conditions

Although lightboxes are made specifically for the treatment of Sad there is evidence that they have also been used successfully in Jet Lag, PMS, ME and MS.

Are Lightboxes Expensive

The equipment varies in price and it is possible to rent equipment to test the effectiveness of the treatment prior to commitment to purchase.


By Philip Bunting B. Pharm.M.R.Pharm.S.
All rights reserved. Any reproducing of this article must have the author name and all the links intact.

Author: B. Pharm.M.R.Pharm.S.

Biography: Director of the Sad Light Hire Company

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