Have you noticed that your mood seems to mimic the atmosphere outside? When it’s bright and sunny out, you tend to have a smile on your face (and in your soul). When it’s gray and gloomy outside, you might feel less energized.
That’s because the light outside affects your hormones. Our bodies are meant to function as a part of our environment. Because of this, the sunlight and the night-day transitions help to regulate the hormones in our bodies. This affects your mood and your energy.
While we all have this to some degree, some people’s hormones change more dramatically with the seasons. This condition is called seasonal affective disorder.
Seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, is essentially depression that only occurs during the fall and winter. There are rare cases of SAD symptoms appearing in the warmer months, but most often, people with the condition feel great in the spring and summer but depressed in the cooler seasons.
SAD has similar symptoms as other types of depression:
These symptoms can be severe enough to have a major impact on your daily life. You might have a hard time being productive at work or managing your relationships. Many people with SAD gain unhealthy weight during the winter because of their symptoms, too.
Researchers don’t know exactly why some people get SAD and others don’t. As they’ve studied the condition, though, it’s clear that it all comes down to hormones.
Two natural chemicals are responsible for SAD symptoms: too little serotonin and too much melatonin. Serotonin, which is considered both a neurotransmitter and a hormone, is responsible for your energy and for uplifting your mood. The hormone melatonin controls your sleep by making you tired when night falls.
Your body needs sunlight to regulate these hormones, and you get less of that light during the fall and winter for multiple reasons. First, there are fewer hours of sunlight each day. Second, the sun is often less bright during those shorter hours so you get less sunlight overall. Third, you might spend less time outdoors when it’s cold outside.
The combination of those factors means you aren’t getting the sunlight your body uses to produce and regulate serotonin and melatonin. This causes low energy even in those without SAD.
One of the most frequent treatments for SAD is simply simulating what you’ve lost: sunlight. Since your body usually uses sunlight to synthesize and regulate hormones, exposing yourself to the right type of light at the right time can replace the missing sunlight and get your hormones back in balance.
There are multiple types of light therapy using different devices, strategies, and types of light to give your body what it needs. The six types below are your most likely options.
A light box is the most frequently-recommended type of light therapy. It’s exactly what its name implies: an electronic box that emits light. Specifically, it uses something called full-spectrum light which is as similar to natural light as possible.
A typical light box therapy regimen includes sitting in front of your light box for 20-60 minutes each morning. This triggers your body’s serotonin production and reduces melatonin, giving you the energy and positivity you need for the day ahead.
A light room isn’t easy to find, but it can be highly effective for light therapy. Think of it as a light box that fully surrounds you rather than one sitting in front of you. This may be more comfortable for your eyes because the light is less direct.
Light rooms are more common in areas where SAD is more prevalent, like particularly cold countries that are further from the equator. If you can find a light room in your area, it’s worth a try.
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