Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) Treated with Biological Lighting
Have you ever felt blue when the sky is gray? Don’t blame the clouds. Your mood probably has very little to do with sky color. More likely, the culprit is a lack of sunlight. At least, that’s the prevailing opinion of the scientific community. Experts know that sunlight stimulates various biological processes that regulate mood and temperament. When solar light levels drop, so presumably do our moods. Apparently, we’re all solar powered.
Most humans, of course, adjust very nicely to intermittent days of gray. But when gloomy skies stretch out over weeks and months, the consequences can be more serious. Those particularly vulnerable may even experience a condition known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).
Occurring primarily during the fall and winter months, SAD is a form of depression related to seasonal changes. Its symptoms include moodiness, low energy, irritability, and difficulty concentrating. Interestingly, most people who experience SAD have a normal balance of moods during the spring and summer months. Clearly, something about autumn and winter doesn’t agree with them. Hence, their seasonal depression.
Science of the Seasons
During the day, sunlight stimulates the production of serotonin, a mood-elevating chemical produced by the human brain. Thus, there’s a sound biological reason why those golden rays make us feel like dancing. Sunlight also inhibits the production of melatonin, a hormone that promotes sleep. When the sun goes down, light levels drop and melatonin freely reproduces. With an unleashed supply of this hormone coursing through our systems, our bright, energetic feelings give way to a general drowsiness. It’s all part of the natural biological cycle.
Our biological clocks, however, aren’t synced to hours of the day; they’re synced to daylight.
During the autumn and winter, there are fewer daylight hours to inhibit melatonin and stimulate serotonin. Consequently, there are more hours of lower energy and muted moods. Now multiply those muted moods by six long months of autumn and winter, and you have the ingredients of long-term depression. Science draws one inescapable conclusion from all this — there’s a definite correlation between diminished daylight and SAD.
Biological Lighting at the End of the Tunnel
Scientists and healthcare experts have developed a number of treatments to combat SAD. One of these, light therapy, goes right to the source of the problem. Individuals receiving this treatment are seated near a special light box for about thirty minutes. The illumination is designed to mimic sunlight, thereby stimulating serotonin production and inhibiting melatonin. With these biological processes set right, mood and energy presumably return to normal levels.
While the jury is still out on the effectiveness of light therapy, many people with SAD claim the treatment has helped them enormously. But whether light therapy or something else becomes the treatment of choice, one thing is likely – sunlight will be the key to the solution.