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Resolving Those Winter Blues

The information provided here is about Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and how to use a light box more optimally to get the most benefit.

To begin with there are a few questions to determine further if indeed what you are experiencing is related to the seasonal change.
As the seasons change do you…

• Feel down or depressed?
• Have less energy than usual?
• Feel less productive or creative?
• Need more sleep?
• Have less control over your appetite?

If you answered yes to these questions it may be indicative of SAD. This is especially the case if you have noticed the same pattern occurring in the winter and then feeling the opposite in the summer for 3 consecutive years.
Interestingly enough SAD is not a recent phenomenon; it was reported by Hippocrates circa in 400BC of people experiencing seasonal depressions.

And it makes complete sense why. During the winter months the amount of lux which is a unit of illumination intensity is only around 4,000 lux on a grey winter day. If much of your day is spent inside you may only be getting around 500 lux. Contrast this to the summer months when we have bright sunshine where you would be getting around 50,000 to 1000,000 lux (1).

Some of the characteristics of winter SAD are increased sleep time, depression, decreased libido, lethargy, increased appetite, weight and cravings for carbohydrates.

If you find yourself cravings carbs during the winter months there may be a good reason. Your body is looking for ways to increase serotonin levels. Serotonin is often thought of as our feel-good neurotransmitter. Thus the carb cravings could be a way of self-medicating to feel better (2).

One of the most effective ways to improve the depressive symptoms of SAD is the use of light therapy (1, 2).

Light boxes have shown to be more effective than the typical antidepressants often used for SAD.

Historically light therapy has been used as early back as the second century when sunlight was directed towards the eyes by the Greco-Roman physicians in the treatment of depression and lethargy.

There are a few potential side effects from using light therapy such as; headaches, eyestrain, mild nausea and feeling edgy. These should go in time or if they are particularly problematic the time using the light box can be reduced.

How to use a 10,000 lux light box

Use a light box (10,000 lux) for 30 minutes in the morning ideally after awakening. If you do not notice an improvement in your symptoms then increase the time to 45 minutes (1).

To get the most use out of your light box you need to be sitting next to it so your head is almost touching the light to get the full amount of lux (around 12-18 inches away). Your eyes must be open but do not stare at the light (1). You can eat or do other things as long as you keep the closeness to the light.

The other advantage to doing this is, you could use the time to make plans, read a book, journal, listen to some positive messages on a C.D or anything else that would interest you.

It will probably mean making an alteration to your schedule to fit this in. Why not invest the half hour a day for something which is free to do, that may make a difference in the way you feel?


1. Lam RW, Levitt AJ. Evidence-Based Management of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) Clinician Resource Package. Clinical Neuroscience. 2002.
2. Sher L. Seasonal Affective Disorder and Seasonality : A Review. Jefferson J Psychiatry. :3–11.