Light is said to naturally trigger the production of serotonin in the brain. Serotonin is a hormone that makes you feel good. Exercise is another example of something that helps your body to release serotonin.
In equatorial countries that are sunny, a lack of light might not be an issue. However, in countries where there are seasonal changes to the daylight hours, this might present an issue for some people where a lack of exposure to natural light can result in a depressive disorder known as Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD.
People who grow up in equatorial countries and move to countries with seasonal changes in the amount of light may be especially susceptible to SAD.
Symptoms of SAD are similar to those of normal depression, but they would occur repetitively at a particular time of the year, usually in the autumn or winter and improve in the spring.
The nature and severity of SAD varies from person to person. Some people just find the condition a bit irritating, while for others it can be severe and have a significant impact on their day-to-day life.
This is where light therapy comes in.
In light therapy, you are exposed to an artificial light source that mimics the effects of natural light. In light therapy, one would sit close to a lightbox that emits strong light for between 10-15 minutes a time. The more powerful the lightbox, the shorter the treatment session can be.
SAD lamps or light boxes are readily available for purchase and light therapy can take place in the comfort of your own home. For milder cases of SAD, the utilisation of a SAD lamp at home is said to work. However, it is important to note that light therapy tends to work quite quickly, so if it’s going to help, you should notice some improvement in the first week.
A SAD lamp is not a permanent cure for SAD and it is likely that come next winter, the symptoms will start again. This means that the SAD lamp may need to be utilised every autumn/ winter.
Before buying a SAD lamp, it is however advisable to seek professional medical advice.
Exposure to very bright light may not be suitable for everyone. People with eye damage or light-sensitive eye conditions such as age-related macular degeneration should exercise caution.
Those who take medication that increases sensitivity to light such as certain antibiotics and antipsychotics should also take note along with people who take the herbal supplement, St John’s wort, which is sometimes used to treat mild to moderate depression.
Those with skin condition lupus erythematosus, which makes skin especially sensitive to light and those with bipolar affective disorder should also take extra care.
As always, please seek independant medical advice.