(NaturalNews) Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a real condition that makes people feel blue during wintertime. As many as one out of five people experience feelings of depression during the coldest months of the year. People with SAD experience symptoms of depression that go away when spring comes, unlike other forms of depression that don't melt away with good weather. Instead of suffering through the bad feelings or popping happy pills, people with SAD may find relief from blue light therapy.
Feeling down occasionally during the winter may be nothing more serious than having a few bad days, but consistent feelings of depression are more likely caused by SAD. Symptoms of SAD could include:
• Desire to eat carbohydrates and sugary foods • Trouble concentrating • Daytime sleepiness • Oversleeping • Weight gain • Loss of libido • Decreased self-esteem • Lack of enjoyment of things that once brought pleasure • Muscle tension • Irritability
Although it may seem overly simple, the trigger for these symptoms is a lack of sunlight. Shorter days during winter and cold temperatures means less fun in the sun, which leads to a reduction in serotonin, a hormone linked to a good mood.
Blue light and hormones
Exposure to bright light increases serotonin levels. When the weather is warm and the sun is shining all day long, people often get enough bright light to keep their mood up. People may even feel "high" just from lying out in the sun. But when the sun sets and darkness falls, a different hormone, melatonin, increases in the body. This causes people to feel tired, which is great when it is late at night and time for bed but can be problematic when the sun sets in the late afternoon during winter, throwing people's natural hormone balance into whack.
Not only does the darkness and subsequent increase in melatonin make people tired, it can also affect appetite, metabolism and emotions because of the role hormones play in the body's rhythms.
Less sunlight means less blue light
Spending more time around artificial light indoors means people get less exposure to blue light. A study done in England in 2009 found that 40 percent of the light people absorbed during summer evenings was blue light. In winter, the percentage dropped to only 26 percent of blue light during the same early evening time.
Research at Thomas Jefferson University has found that exposure to blue light causes stronger connections in the brain between the areas that process language and emotions. Being around blue light stimulates these connections even better than green light though green light is still beneficial for the eye's visual system.
A 2006 study found that blue light was more effective for reducing SAD symptoms than red light. Experts hypothesize that being exposed to blue light could help people manage emotional difficulties better and over time, help with mood regulation.
Light therapy to treat SAD
Many people currently use light boxes to help them cope with SAD and other types of depression. These light boxes emit bright white light. Research shows that within a few days, people may feel better by staring at their light boxes for 30 to 45 minutes per day. Blue light might work even better. Researchers also suspect that swapping out yellow lights for blue lights could increase productivity and mood enhancement year-round.
No amount of lighting is going to replace being outdoors, but using blue lights could help supplement some of what people miss during winter. Painting walls with light colors could also reflect sunlight and boost the mood.
About the author: Sarka-Jonae Miller is a published novelist and MARSocial Author of the Year runner-up. She's also a former personal trainer and massage therapist. SJ's published work includes the #3 bestseller "Between Boyfriends" and the just released sequel"Between the Sheets". The chick lit series was recently featured in the San Diego Reader, the largest alternative newsweekly in the United States.