A Drug Free Therapy for Winter Depression (SAD): Blue Bright Light Therapy

Sun in a box? It's on my list of must haves if I ever move back home! I know too well how long, dark and depressing the winters are back there!

Sun in a box? It’s on my list of must haves if I ever move back home! I know too well how long, dark and depressing the winters are back there! (This is Golite Blu Light)

If I ever move back to the UK I’m definitely buying a lamp like this: Golite Blu Therapy Light

As a child and teenager I detested the long dark evenings along with black mornings in Winter where waking up is nearly impossible. The extensive hours of darkness are tiring and depressing – and I’m not even referring to depression in the true ‘clinical’ sense here! Dark winters are depressing, at least I think so.

I remember genuinely wishing that I could sleep all winter, hibernate until spring! Now, after years of living in sunny Australia where a winter day is a mild as 19 degrees Celsius and usually flooded with sunlight so bright sunglasses are a medical necessity, I have been spoilt rotten. I simply can’t imagine, now, what it must feel like to live and function adequately in such extended hours of darkness and it really doesn’t surprise me that in countries like the UK people suffer from ‘Seasonal Affective Disorder’ (SAD), a depression that occurs in Winter time. SAD is usually characterised by low mood, irritability, excessive desire to sleep and craving for carbohydrates.

At a conference I attended recently, the benefits of Bright Light Therapy (particularly of the Blueish Variety) was outlined as being effective in treating certain types of depression, particularly SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder). The lecturer switched on the bright blue lamp (it’s really bright!) and I caught a flash of amazing sky blue-like light.

How does Bright Light Therapy Work?

In Winter it’s thought that due to the early onset and late disappearance of darkness, our bodies secrete more melatonin than in summer. Melatonin is a hormone that we secrete before we sleep, it is switched on in darkness and is switched off in light. We need Melatonin to help us maintain a healthy circadian rhythm, that is to say, for maintaining our bio rhythm. Now the theory that supports the use of Bright Light Therapy for treating SAD sees depression as a disorder to this bio rhythm, or Circadian rhythm. Now this is fascinating and deserves a blog post all to itself! But for now all I’ll say is that finally the days of “Cartesian Dualism” or as viewing the Mind/Body as two separate but somehow intertwined entities are over. Finally, the move towards seeing ourselves as fully integrated physical entities is off and running (and, I hope, this means there will be many more developments/treatments for ‘Mental’ Illnesses).

The bright light can be used therapeutically to suppress the production of melatonin and can be used in the morning for SAD sufferers. Interestingly, more is not necessarily better. It is thought that the timing of usage is key to improving the outcomes of bright light therapy for SAD. For example, using the box between 6-7 a.m in the morning, simulating a sunrise.

It is thought that blueish light is more effective as the cells in the eye that are associated with switching on Melatonin are more responsive to blue light.

More on Depression (non-seasonal) and Bright Light Treatment plus other non-pharmacological treatments coming soon!

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  2 comments for “A Drug Free Therapy for Winter Depression (SAD): Blue Bright Light Therapy

  1. Claire Ross
    May 7, 2014 at 4:21 pm

    Amen to this!!!! The light box I used from Nov onwards really made a significant difference to my SAD!

    • Naomi R Cook
      May 7, 2014 at 7:39 pm

      The concept of light therapy has been around for a while but it’s exciting that research in this area is still continuing. I would definitely buy one for prophylactic treatment of SAD for UK winters! Glad it worked for you, I don’t doubt that for a minute. 🙂

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