In the United States, one in five Americans are diagnosed with seasonal depression – 5% of which will show symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder. The exact cause of Seasonal Affective Disorder, acronym SAD, is yet unknown but as research continues, doctors are finding connections in how light, and lack thereof, affects us.
Anyone who’s experienced winter will understand the long nights and short days. As the earth’s orbit around the sun shifts, we are left with diminished daylight hours and even then the quality of sunlight is quite literally lackluster. In addition to providing us with necessary nutrient vitamin D, referred to as the sunshine vitamin, the sun and its rays help keep our circadian rhythms in check.
With the shifting daylight hours, non-image forming light receptor cells known as ipRGCs may become disrupted and disordered leaving us unable to sleep at night, fatigued during the day, mood swings, and sometimes depression. The parallel symptoms of SAD and disrupted circadian rhythms gives insight into our complicated winter experience. While these discoveries don’t give us the whole picture just yet, they influence effective treatments and high tech innovations.
For individuals living with Seasonal Affective Disorder, one of the only proven methods of treatment comes in the form of bright light therapy. Though some symptoms of SAD and clinical depression may be similar, traditional depression treatments aren’t always effective for SAD. Instead, doctor’s look to what is understood about our body’s reaction to natural light, mood and energy levels, and sleep quality.
A study in 2018 set up participants to spend 30 minutes of their early morning schedule wearing blue light goggles; following the study, participants expressed feeling less tired and more alert during their day. The best bet for beating winter blues may come from simply experiencing the right environmental light at the right time of day – cool, blue light in the morning, and gentle, warm light as bedtime approaches.
When waiting for the spring thaw isn’t enough to kick the cabin fever, tech is on our side. This infographic details the causes and effects of Seasonal Affective Disorder and how high-tech treatments are shining a light on the dark days of winter.