light therapy for SAD

5 Bright Ideas for Coping with Darker Days

You can brighten your mood during winter's dark days with 5 simple strategies, including light therapy for SAD (seasonal affective disorder).

By Megan Othersen Gorman

RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—Does winter get you down? Plenty of people suffer mood changes ranging from mild “winter doldrums” to full-blown seasonal affective disorder (aptly acronymed SAD), all due to the decrease in daylight that occurs in fall and winter and the hormonal changes that coincide with it.

“SAD is a serious condition—a subtype of major depressive disorder in which life can be severely compromised by fatigue, low mood, anxiety, reduced sex drive, and more,” says psychologist and SAD specialist Michael Terman, PhD, director of the Center for Light Treatment and Biological Rhythms at New York–Presbyterian Hospital in New York City. “But SAD is really just the tip of the iceberg," he adds. Far more of us experience similar but less intense symptoms, becoming just short of clinically depressed. And that’s just, well, sad.

Light therapy for SAD, and other tactics, will combat both general seasonal sadness as well as full-blown disorder, Terman says. Here's what you can do:

# 1: Stop hitting the snooze button.

# 2: Eat at the same time every day.

# 3: Schedule some outside time.

# 4: Let there be light.

# 5: Win the battle of the bulb.

# 1: Stop hitting the snooze button. That is, try your best to keep to the same sleep hours on workdays and weekends. “Oversleeping, even if only on weekends, allows your circadian rhythms [your internal body clock] to drift later, out of sync with local time,” says Terman. “And that can trigger the lethargy and low mood associated with winter.”
# 2: Eat at the same time every day—and no later than 8 p.m. for dinner (to avoid interfering with your sleep). “Just as with light, our biological clocks respond to meal timing,” says Terman, “and consistency is the name of the game.”
# 3: Schedule some outside time. Light therapy for SAD or milder mood problems begins outdoors. If your schedule allows it, make a point to exercise outdside, after the sun is up. “Less exposure to natural light is at the root of the winter doldrums,” says Terman. “By working out in daylight, you’re getting more light than you otherwise might and you’re fighting depression with aerobic exercise.” When your schedule precludes outdoor time, gym workouts can still make depression less likely. Make sure you work out at the same time most days, says Terman, and avoid working out in the late evening hours before sleep.
# 4: Let there be light. To counter the season’s reduction in light, create it—by purchasing a light-therapy box (a box that emits bright light that mimics natural outdoor light, which is more intense than normal household lighting). “By my estimate,” says Terman, “half the U.S. population would benefit by using a light box for 30 minutes before work [light therapy can cause insomnia if performed late in the day]. It’s just a highly convenient and effective breakfast-table routine.” By the time you’re done with your eggs and the paper, he says, you’ll likely have received enough light therapy to prevent any mood shifts and stay energetic throughout the day.

The trick is to opt for the best box. “Light boxes come in all shapes and sizes, and with many uncontrolled properties, so the choice of device is very important,” says Terman. He recommends light boxes that have been clinically tested and provide a broad field of illumination from above the line of sight. Also, UV radiation should be filtered out, and the light should be smoothly diffused, to eliminate glaring bright spots.
# 5: Win the battle of the bulb. To a lesser extent, indoor light can also help combat the doldrums. But you don't need full-spectrum light bulbs, which can cost more than 10 times their non-full-spectrum cousins. “At the intensity needed to achieve an energizing/antidepressant effect, full-spectrum lighting is glaring and uncomfortable and it’s no more effective than regular indoor light, at an appropriate intensity, at easing winter symptoms,” Terman says. Instead of scouring the aisles for full-spectrum bulbs, Terman suggests choose light bulbs based on color temperature ratings. “A color temperature around 4100 Kelvin is ideal,” Terman says. “Higher color temperatures of 5500 Kelvin and above should be avoided.”

Still feeling blue, despite actively trying to lighten your days? You may have clinically significant depression. To get an objective assessment of where you fall on the seasonal-depression spectrum, check out the Center for Environmental Therapeutics’ Personal Inventory for Depression and SAD—an online symptom self-assessment at And, of course, consult your doctor.


Published on: September 14, 2009

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Vitamin D in particular may

Vitamin D in particular may have the power to prevent and even treat symptoms of depression. Vitamin D is known to increase serotonin in the brain. Serotonin is a chemical that helps maintain a level mood and can reduce your chances of feeling sad. Vitamin D also helps the body produce dopamine, a powerful mood improving agent.

Here are five more benefits of vitamin D:

1.It helps the intestine absorb nutrients, ensuring strong bones and a strong immune system.

2. Vitamin D prevents osteomalacia and rickets.

3. Vitamin D provides calcium that prevents osteoporosis and arthritis.

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5. Vitamin D can strengthen the skin by keeping the immune system healthy to naturally resist surface acne bacteria in the complexion. vitamin D can strengthen the skin by keeping the immune system healthy to naturally resist surface in the complexion.

Suncreen is important for preventing skin cancer, but it is still important to have 15 minutes of unprotected sun exposure each day to get the ample amounts of vitamin D that your body craves.

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This article on five bright

This article on five bright ideas for coping with darker days is good. There are many ways one can get away from sadness or depression. Light to be used for coping with low moods is a great idea. I think surrounding one with lights can be beneficial. According to the article, light boxes can be used as well. I think if you want more light you can call commercial lighting suppliers to do the light set-up. They will help you.
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They Do Work

I find that just sitting by a bright window for breakfast works as good as a light box and saves me money (both on the box and the electric). If it's a sunny day and the sun in coming in the window in the afternoon I'll go sit in it as well to get as much sun as I can. Making the most of those little opportunities really helps in the dark months!

Setting a regular sleep/wake up schedule works like a charm, for both SAD and insomnia. As does trying to get some exercise every day, especially outdoors. I'm using most of these, except the light box. I also take Vitamin D which helps. I not only have been feeling better since making these changes I haven't gotten a cold or flu since either (for the last 2 years).

SAD and Viutamin D - response

Beyond the suggestions made in the article, there are numerous other potential fix-its, but without clinical experience and trials they cannot be recommended at this point. Several people have indeed found Vitamin D supplements useful for SAD -- but many more have not. The positive evidence is still quite anecdotal. Be sure to consult your doctor before taking this step in order to avoid overdose toxicity.

SAD and vitamin D

I find it interesting that Vitamin D3 supplements weren't explored or mentioned in this article. I am on a prescribed dose right now because my levels were so low. It wiped out my SAD last winter and I'm still catching up metabolically speaking. I'm hoping the SAD stays at bay because of it this year. Over the counter D3 is good, too. the amounts that are put in orange juice and milk barely scratch the surface for what our bodies need. Especially if you live in a northern latitude.

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