Seasonal affective disorder, SAD, affects millions of people especially in winter and autumn when there is a limited exposure to natural daylight. Historically, humans have typically worked outdoors but we are increasingly spending more time working indoors.
While this is certainly refreshing during the simmering summer months, the limited exposure to sunlight during the gloomier months can have a negative impact on the body.
Effects of Limited Exposure to Sunlight
The body requires a certain amount of light to function effectively. Prolonged depravation of sunlight can trigger hormonal changes that result into SAD symptoms such as irritability, feelings of depression for no apparent reason, anxiety, lethargy, libido problems, insomnia and cravings that can lead to weight gain.
On the contrary, exposure to adequate amounts of sunlight allows the brain to secret serotonin, also known as the ‘feel good hormone.’ Given the widespread serotonin cells in the body, this hormone is responsible for numerous functions in the body including mood, sexual desire, memory, sleep, appetite, and social behavior.
Low amounts of Vitamin D in the body increases the risk of chronic conditions.
Limited exposure to sunlight is evidentially against nature’s cues and it can have dramatic effects on the body’s biological clock. As a result, during the day, you will experience a loss of energy and feel sluggish and at night, you will experience a disruption in sleep, feel restless and moody.
Other studies indicate that low amounts of Vitamin D in the body increases the risk of chronic conditions including high blood pressure, asthma, heart disease and diabetes.
The Role of Vitamin D in Minimizing SAD Symptoms
Studies by Nepps (2006), Danilenko & Ivanova (2015), Labbate, et.al (1995) among other such researchers have found that patients exhibiting SAD symptoms generally have lower levels of Vitamin D in the body.
Fortunately, it is possible to reverse this condition by eating foods rich in Vitamin D such as fish liver oils, tuna, sardines, egg yolks and fruit.At the same time, adequate exposure to sunlight helps the body to naturally produce good amounts of Vitamin D, which could drastically alleviate the effects and symptoms of SAD.
It is hardly surprising that for the most part, sunlight makes us feel jovial, energetic, and optimistic—the opposite of winter blues.Other than uplifting your mood, Vitamin D is vital for maintaining healthy bones, reducing your risk of developing conditions such as arthritis, and alleviating other conditions such as glucose intolerance and allergies.
What’s Best: SAD Light Boxes or Vitamin D Supplements?
If you live in areas where the sun does not come out for months or if you work in an occupation that keeps you indoors most of the time, it is likely that your body is not producing enough Vitamin D due to limited exposure to natural sunlight.
One way people make up for a Vitamin D deficiency is by taking supplement pills. The thing with supplements is that you need to take adequate dosages to experience any tangible effects or to minimize the impact of Vitamin D deficiency. In a bid to see any results, it is possible to overdose, resulting to Vitamin D toxicity, which may land you in hospital.
Due to these challenges, doctors recommend the additional use of light boxes to alleviate SAD symptoms. The use of SAD light boxes is known as bright light therapy or phototherapy.
A light therapy box produces light that mimics natural sunlight. Typically, light boxes offer an exposure of up to 10,000 lux of light and are built to filter out as much UV light as possible to prevent skin or eye damage.
Numerous studies have shown that bright light therapy can be greatly effective at treating SAD symptoms, with patients reporting improved mood, sleep and energy levels.
There are various light boxes on the market and all serve the same purpose. However, it is best to speak to your doctor concerning the best SAD light box for you. Depending on your symptoms, you may require to pair light therapy with supplements, anti-depressant or psychotherapy but this all at your doctor’s recommendation.
In summary, prolonged lack of exposure to natural sunlight can affect your quality of life and your health in the long-term. If possible, soak up adequate amounts of sunlight each day. If not, seek a doctor’s recommendation on the use of light boxes to boost your body’s Vitamin D levels for more energy, better sleep and a great mood.
Danilenko, K. & Ivanova, I. (2015). Dawn simulation vs. bright light in seasonal affective disorder: Treatment effects and subjective preference. Journal Of Affective Disorders, 180, 87-89. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jad.2015.03.055Labbate, L., Lafer, B., Thibault, A., Rosenbaum, J., & Sachs, G. (1995).
Influence of phototherapy treatment duration for seasonal affective disorder: Outcome at one vs. two weeks. Biological Psychiatry, 38(11), 747-750. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/0006-3223(95)00069-0Nepps, P. (2006).
Vitamin D and Mood Disorders. The Journal Of Lancaster General Hospital, 1(3). Retrieved from http://www.jlgh.org/Past-Issues/Volume-1---Issue-3/Vitamin-D-And-Mood-Disorders.aspx