After 180 straight days of sun here in San Diego, I welcome the occasional cool, cloudy day. For some latitudes though, summers seem to grow shorter year after year while colder, cloudier weather extends longer and longer. In Rochester, New York where I visit once a month to see patients, the 32nd degree latitude is covered by clouds about three quarters of the year! Come October, we’re taking special therapeutic measures to keep everyone happy!
SAD or seasonal affective disorder results when levels of certain neuro-chemicals are thrown off due to lack of natural light. Left un-exposed to continuous light, these neuro-chemicals face difficulty reaching the hypothalamus, the brain’s center responsible for regulating stress, metabolism and contentment. While most reported cases are among women, an increasing amount of men, as well as children experience signs and symptoms of SAD on an annual basis.
Into The Light
Past research primarily highlighted latitudinal correlations to discern which populations were most susceptible to SAD. Alaskans, Icelanders, Northern Canadians, and eastern Russians were most affected by where they resided along the earth’s tilt. Researchers further differentiated northerners from southerners, finding that even subtle latitudinal differences affected the degree of SAD.
Current research suggests the time of day we’re exposed to light might be as, or more important than overall quantity of light exposure. Researchers in the UK are developing a study where the condition affects thousands.
Lightening Up Sans Soleil
You might not be able to step outside into the sunlight every morning, but you can mimic its affects from your bedroom, office, hotel room or travel space. Light box therapy has been extensively studied as a suitable adjunct to less than sunny seasons. These specialized boxes and lamps emit light that is similar to what you’d experience on a clear Spring day! Sensed by the retina, light transfers a message to the hypothalamus signaling our circadian clock; easing natural bio-rhythms.
The illuminated results you can look forward to:
· Sound sleep patterns and
reduction of jet-lag
· Increased vitality and fatigue
· A smiling face saying goodbye
· Enhanced memory and ability
· Revved up sex drive
· Ease of sore muscles
A wide variety of lamps and lights exist. For a real dawn simulation, consider creating a breakfast nook in your home to wake up, relax, eat and read the morning paper. If you’re staying in a hotel, this can be even easier! Careful design has introduced selections that fit all types of interior decor whether you’re in a swank hotel or a rugged tent. A few of my favorites are the Philips briteLITE box suitable for indoor and outdoor use, the BioBrite Pearl White Alarm clock featuring a progression of light (small enough to pack for an extended stay) and the awesome little Litebook for any frequent traveler.
Passing through Stockholm, Sweden anytime soon? Okay, most of you probably aren’t, but if you do, stay at the Nordic Light Hotel in the heart of the city and feel the light. Rejuvenate in one of their mood rooms featuring eclectic swaths of colors and personalized light therapy. Specialized light boxes and photo-therapy sessions can be arranged with the concierge… Hopefully more cities will take a cue from our Nordic neighbors offering us brighter stays!
Do you currently use and benefit from light therapy? Your comments are valuable and help other readers. Please feel welcome to share your experience here with others.