It has long been known that when days become shorter many individuals experience a form of depression called Season Affective Disorder, or SAD. In this Searching for Solutions report, Paul Sisco reports on one method of dealing with the disorder some call "winter blues."
As summer turns to fall, then winter, and the days get shorter, many creatures migrate to warmer, sunnier climates, while some hibernate. Most people do not have those options. And for some, those diagnosed with SAD, or Seasonal Affective Disorder, the coming of winter disrupts sleep, diet, and mood.
"Seasonal Affective Disorder is a type of depression that roughly affects one in four people, and it is basically caused by the shortness of daylight hours," explains Neal Owens about his own experience with SAD.
In the 1980s, Owens took part in the first clinical studies on Seasonal Affective Disorder at the National Institutes of Health, outside Washington. He says, "As the days get shorter, there are marked seasonal changes in brain chemistry, and researchers now know that when the days get shorter we have a lower amount of serotonin, which is a nerve messenger chemical responsible for our moods, productivity, our sex drive, our eating habits, and when the days get shorter," he continued, "we have more melatonin and less serotonin, and that's what causes the problems in people that suffer from SAD."
Light therapy is often beneficial for those with the disorder, and Owens started the 'Sunbox' company to provide it. "The treatment has been relatively simple: basically you are using artificial bright light to fool your brain," he said.
They assemble and market a variety of unique light therapy products for SAD sufferers.
"Using artificial bright light 15 to 20 times brighter than normal ... home or office lighting, can boost serotonin levels in the brain," Owens explained. "So really by using a 'Sunbox' box light box, you can actually pretend it's a nice summer day outdoors."
Many users and therapists confirm that light therapy is an effective treatment for SAD. Many users say they feel better within days of giving it a try.