Let There Be Light (Therapy)
By Jamie O’Meara
Typically, throughout much of the year, most of us get our light therapy the natural way, under the blazing beams of the spring and summer sun. But when the weather turns and the sun beats a cold path towards the annual winter solstice on December 21 (the shortest day of the year, in terms of daylight), the lack of sunlight can have a detrimental effect on persons prone to Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), seasonal depression, or the winter blues.
It’s estimated that more than 10 percent of the general population in northern climates is affected by SAD. Fortunately, the proper and regular application of light therapy has been shown to provide measurable relief for this common disorder – significant improvement after as little as a week of treatments – as well as a range of other ailments, including some non-seasonal depressions and circadian rhythm sleep disorders. Light therapy can also be helpful in combatting jet lag and adjusting to a nighttime work schedule, as exposure to light reduces the production of melatonin, the naturally occurring hormone in your body which helps regulate your circadian rhythm and dictates your sleep cycle.
Most folks who experience the winter blues notice symptoms with the first prolonged periods of dark and dreary weather in the fall months, and then notice a tapering off as the amount of natural sunlight returns in the spring, which is why light therapy treatments usually take place in that interval. If a winter getaway and/or outdoor winter activities on sunny days aren’t an option, then light therapy sessions may provide the solution.
A typical light therapy treatment features a 30-minute exposure to a UV-filtered light box emitting 10,000 lux illumination once or twice a day, though treatments can vary greatly depending on people and their needs. Best of all, administered properly, light therapy is safe and side effects are minimal, in rare cases limited to eyestrain or headaches. And just in case you were wondering, no, you can’t and won’t get a tan.