Image: Unsplash
Image: Unsplash

Feeling S.A.D? Blame the lack of light

Many of us claim that January and February and the most depressing months of the year: the excitement of Christmas has long gone and the summer months seem light years away. However, for many people these feelings are not just the post Christmas blues, they are caused by a lack of light.

The sun is by far the most important aspect of life on earth so it is perhaps no surprise that a lack of sunny days has a detrimental effect on our mood. SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) is said to affect thousands of people worldwide, especially in countries that have months lacking in sunlight and shorter days. The disorder has many symptoms including low mood, lethargy, exhaustion and lack of pleasure in previously enjoyed activities. Unlike depression, SAD symptoms tend to ease in the spring and summer when the days start getting longer and the sun is at its most powerful brightness (even in the lacklustre summers of the UK).

 

Seratonin is a very important hormone in our brain that regulates our appetite and mood…

So what is the link between a lack of sunlight and low mood? Well, in short, experts are not entirely sure. Limited research has been explored in the area of Seasonal Affective Disorder but the main theories are that the lack of sunlight inhibits the area of the brain called the hypothalamus from working. This area of the brain is responsible for the production of melatonin and serotonin. Melatonin is a hormone which makes us tired, in people with SAD this results in feeling exhausted a lot of the time. Seratonin is a very important hormone in our brain that regulates our appetite and mood – a lack of serotonin is linked to feelings of depression, with many antidepressants working as selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SSRIs) to help our bodies keep as much of the good hormone as possible.

So, how can you offset the symptoms of sadness? Due to SAD being linked to a lack of sunshine it is very important to spend as much time in the sun as possible, e.g. a short stroll mid-afternoon when the sunlight is at its brightest. This combined with exercise has not only health benefits but can help ease some of the severe symptoms of SAD. Another treatment is to source a lightbox. These are specially designed bright lights that help to stimulate the sensation of sunlight. People who have opted for light therapy claim that the exposure to a bright light source does help to cheer up low moods, although more scientific research is needed to determine how effective the artificial lights are in elevating low moods. Lightboxes can be bought online for a fairly reasonable price of £40 with more powerful lights increasing in price and a few hours a day of light exposure is often all that is needed to feel the benefits.

 

It is important to talk to your GP if you are worried about yourself as treatment is readily available and you don’t need to suffer in silence…

Of course, with any feelings of low mood and depression therapy and counselling is very effective, as the knowledge that things will get better and the sadness will lift. It is important to talk to your GP if you are worried about yourself as treatment is readily available and you don’t need to suffer in silence. If you are suffering from SAD bear in mind that although we are currently snowed in, spring and summer are never far away and we’ll be basking in that much-needed sunshine soon.

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Comments (1)

  • You mentioned light, and that is the key: especially sunlight, which enhances mood dramatically, summer or winter. As you said, serotonin is produced in the brain under the influence of bright light.
    Dr. Gavin Lambert and his colleagues in Australia measured serotonin levels in response to varying degrees of bright light. To do this, they drew blood samples from the internal jugular veins of 101 men and compared the serotonin concentration of the blood to weather conditions and seasons. The results were remarkable: Men who were measured on a very bright day produced eight times more serotonin than those who were measured on a cloudy, dismal day. They also observed that the effect of bright light was immediate, and that there was no holdover from day to day. There we have the answer to SAD. When the sun is shining, winter or summer, wherever you are, take advantage of it. It will elevate your mood and make you feel more alive. More information: sunlightinstitute.org

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