It’s an extremely grey (and rainy) day here in London as I write this, which reminds me that winter isn’t too far away. Some look to the colder, darker seasons with some trepidation, because they find that their general vitality and mood take a nose dive.
At its worst, this phenomenon can manifest is what is known as ‘seasonal affective disorder’ (SAD). However, some individuals are not affected badly enough to warrant this diagnosis, and are sometimes classified as having ‘subsyndromal SAD’ (S-SAD).
I was interested to read a Swedish study recently in which individuals with SAD and S-SAD were treated with bright light therapy . In this study, individuals were exposed to 10 days of treatment in a ‘light room.’ Mood, fatigue and well being was rated before the light therapy, immediately after, and then a month later. (I wasn’t able to find details in the study regarding exactly how much time individuals spent in the light room each day.)
Some of the volunteers were treated immediately as their symptoms became apparent. For others, treatment was delayed by 3 weeks. The idea was for this second group to act as a control group, of sorts. However, a much better control might have been exposed to a light room in which the quality of the light is known not to have benefits in the treating SAD or S-SAD.
Light therapy improved fatigue and quality of life
This design flaw aside, the study did turn up some interesting results. In individuals with either SAD or S-SAD, light therapy led to improvements in scores of fatigue, daytime sleepiness and health-related quality of life. What’s more, the benefits were still apparent a month after the treatment stopped.
The researchers subdivided the group into three, according to symptoms:
- mildly depressed and not sleepy
- mildly depressed and sleepy
- depressed and sleepy
The researchers go on to suggest that individuals with SAD or S-SAD symptoms might be categorized according to their predominant symptoms as follows:
- ‘simple winter fatigue’
- ‘simple winter fatigue with sleepiness’
- ‘winter depression’
I don’t know whether these terms will stick. The important thing, though, is that all three groups benefited from the light therapy. The study does supply support for the notion that many individuals may benefit from getting more light in the winter, even if they do not have symptoms that, strictly speaking, put them in the ‘SAD’ category.
Getting more light can help
Getting more light exposure during the day in the winter is one tactic that may help. However, there are days (like today, here in London) when this is not realistic. The cold can be another barrier, as can a busy, office-based work schedule.
In such cases, a light device may prove a good investment. I use the Apollo GoLite M2 at home. My subjective experience is that it’s really helped me through the winter. Nothing ‘scientific’ about my results, of course. But then again, this doesn’t matter to me – I feel it helps.
1. Rastad C, et al. Improvement in Fatigue, Sleepiness, and Health-Related Quality of Life with Bright Light Treatment in Persons with Seasonal Affective Disorder and Subsyndromal SAD. Depression Research and Treatment. 2011:543906
Dr. John Briffa is a graduate of the University College London School of Medicine. Since qualifying as a doctor, Dr Briffa has developed a special interest in nutritional and naturally-oriented medicine.
He is in private practice in London, and his aim is to assist individuals identify and remedy the underlying cause of chronic symptoms and conditions.
Dr Briffa is a former columnist for the Daily Mail and the Observer, and is a regular contributor to newspapers and magazines. He is a former recipient of the Health Journalist of the Year award in the UK. He has written 6 books on the subject of nutrition and natural health and has been a major contributor to 3 others.
Dr. Briffa lectures internationally to corporations, members of the public and health professionals, and is a regular guest on radio and TV.
You can read more at www.drbriffa.com.
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