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Cure SAD-ness with Light Therapy

Updated on February 23, 2013

Enlightenment About Seasonal Affective Disorder Or SAD

It's almost humorous how the acronym SAD spells out the emotion felt by individuals that suffer Seasonal Affective Disorder, but it is surely not funny to them.

Sad or down is exactly how many feel when the days begin to shorten at the end of summer. For others, the start of school in September, the slight chill in the air of that month, or the smell of the first burning leaves compounds the sadness. One's children leave home to attend university. Friends die. State and county fairs held in the fall are another trigger that can stimulate one's perhaps already-frayed nervous system to whisper, “Oh no, winter's near.”

Winter can bring the obstacles of snow and ice that trap the elderly, the single, and the immobile in their homes or autos with no help -- some of them die. It signifies a number of changes that can become more difficult with age. The winter can also carry changes in natural light that have a real, physical effect upon certain individuals of any age. No demographic is titally spared.

Compounding Factors

Other circumstances that spell loss compound the effect that fewer hours of light can have on a human body disposed to SAD. At the end of the longest days of summer, public swimming pools close. One can no longer sit outside and read until 9:00 PM by daylight. The need for additional clothing is oppressive to some people. Having to close house windows more often can be claustrophobic. Some older folks can no longer see well enough in the dark, even by street lamp, to walk down to the corner after dinner for an ice cream as autumn daylight declines. Then the Dairy Hut closes for the season. It's too dark and cold to sit out on the front porch and everyone else is inside, anyway. Favorite summer TV series whose casts have become one's friends come to an end. College chums go back to out-of-town universities. Theme parks close. Things change and leave a sense of loss in their wake. Seniors with SAD may wonder, “Will I live to see the spring?”

Circumstances can cause a person with SAD to feel even sadder and this can feel like a descent into a maelstrom. People with SAD may feel melancholy, isolated, and abandoned or left out -- Clients have told me as much. Their symptoms can include moodiness, chronic fatigue, oversleeping, craving for carbohydrate comfort foods, lack of concentration, and other changes.


Nutritional Help

Sleep researchers and mental health professionals feel that SAD is brought on by changes in body chemistry linked to the reduction in daylight hours and nothing else seems to be at its root. This can cause a lead in hormones and brain chemicals, including the relevant neurotransmitter serotonin, which produces feelings of well being. Serotonin has been shown to reach its lowest levels in winter, perhaps most notably in the shortest winter days of the year. Some SAD clients feel better when bright sunlight shines on a winter day and this is telling evidence.

Serotonin is derived from tryptophan, found in fish, chicken, and the ubiquitous turkey. Milk products include milk, cheese, and cottage cheese. Bananas, eggs, nuts, avocados, and legumes (beans, peas, lentils, and peanuts) all contain tryptophan as well. At the same time, all these foods contain amino acids that stop tryptophan's trip to the brain, a frustrating circumstance. Some professionals feel that only 1% of food tryptophan arrives in the brain. In the US, tryptophan capsules have been sold, banned from sale, and sold again; whether they help alleviate SAD is debatable.

A high-note is the effect of complex carbohydrates in the diet. They can help the body to assimilate tryptophan more efficiently by stimulating the release of insulin. This may explain carbohydrate cravings and even some winter weight gain. The carbs stimulate insulin that helps clear away amino acids blocking tryptophan from the brain and insulin does not affect tryptophan at all. They were made for each other. Complex carbohydrates like whole grains are best.

Omega 3 fats also help serotonin function, which may then help alleviate depressive symptoms. Because the body cannot produce its own serotonin, a sufficient must be ingested. Omega 3 fatty acids are evident in oily fish like herring, mackerel, salmon, sardines tuna, and in products that include fish oil, flaxseed oil, and walnut oil. However, up to 60% of Americans may experience deficiencies of Omega-3 fatty acids and some simply have no detectable blood levels of them at all. Education and awareness can help change eating habits to include food sources of Omega 3 fats.

Bright Relief

SAD treatment, aside from dietary changes, offers the options of light therapy (the most effective treatment overall), medications, behavioral therapies, and hormone replacement. The research literature shows that at least 50% of sufferers achieve remission of their symptoms via light therapy, most often using bright white fluorescent light in special light boxes (See the display to the right; even small art related light boxes may help).

SAD is not limited to fall and winter and can also occur during spring and summer seasons, producing a different set of symptoms: impaired appetite, agitation, anxiety, withdrawal, and sleeplessness. In other people, a type of mania occurs in these brighter seasons. It manifests as any of hyperactivity, excess enthusiasm, a highly elevated mood, rapid thoughts, and machine-gun speech . Such a person might seem to have taken a stimulant medication, but has not. Some researchers call this Reverse SAD.(Thankfully, they do not call it HAPPY).

If you are concerned about symptoms in yourself or loved ones that may be connected to SAD or other depression, contact your healthcare practitioner. The range of depression categories is treatable and treatments are most successful when undertaken early on. Be alert to signs of suicide and get help immediately if they appear. Depression is serious and real; the compounding factors are not foolish , even though others may label them “superficial.” Depression must not be taken lightly, but it need not be deadly.

Comments and Experiences

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    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Dear Patty:-)

      The title of your Hub I find PERFECT! I absolutely LOVE your Hub and have therefore, linked your very important information about SAD, to my latetst Hub about Bipolar Disorder and the effect of seasonal changes.

      I didn't ask since I guessed you wouldn't mind at all. Now you know and I do hope you'll let me know what you think of it. I tried to link your Hub to a topic, related to yours.

      Voted up, awesome, interesting and useful!

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile imageAUTHOR

      Patty Inglish MS 

      11 years ago from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation

      Not a fun time for you at all, shodge! I hope the sun is coming out brighter each day for you. Do you have anyone you can talk to, to lift your spirits?

    • shodge profile image


      11 years ago

      I suffer from S.A.D., I suffer from severe clinical depression. It is currently 6:54 PM, and I am just getting out of bed, will be back in bed within an hour, once again, sleeping! I feel suicidal a lot of the time. I hate the hell of winter!!! I hate it!

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile imageAUTHOR

      Patty Inglish MS 

      11 years ago from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation

      Ixxy - You;re right about Ohio, it seems so grey all teh time, then when I drive across the border to Michigan, it seems so bright, open, and green - I think the small lakes and larger Lake Huron help, and water surrounds much of the state. Those light boxes can be supported on legs or built on short stands pr legs to sit on top of a table. Thr art tracing light bozes help some people with with SAD as well, although they are not designed for that purpose.

    • lxxy profile image


      11 years ago from Beneath, Between, Beyond

      Wow Patty, I've known people like this. Before the move further west my last winter in Ohio was spent mostly under grey sky; we may have had two days of sunlight in all of winter. It didn't help the previous winter was much like that, too.

      But I've never been too fond of the sun, personally. It's that thing with legs, right?

    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 

      11 years ago from Sunny Florida

      Patty, This is a very good hub with important information. after being raised up north, now I live in norther Fl and one of the things I like is we don't go long without seeing the sun.

    • JenDobson27 profile image


      11 years ago

      Seems like just about every winter gets me a little down at some point, but spring is almost here so I'm looking forward to that! Thanks for the great info.

    • Hello, hello, profile image

      Hello, hello, 

      11 years ago from London, UK

      Nothing worse than feeling down. Thank you for a very well researched and informative hub.

    • someonewhoknows profile image


      11 years ago from south and west of canada,north of ohio

      Many people work at odd hours.I once had to work a midnight shift 12 hours.I did this for about two months.At the end of those two months I wasn't feeling too well.In fact I noticed that I felt much better working during datlight hours.I knew it had sometimng to do with my internal clock.But natural sunlight had a lot to do with it too.

      I hate to say this but,I hate to think what kind of treatment patients in hospitals get from people working at odd hours.I suppose ,if you get enough natural light,of the right intensity,it should keep you healthy ,as long as it has some light from the ultra-violet spectrum.I can't imagine that they don't with all the technology we have access to these days.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile imageAUTHOR

      Patty Inglish MS 

      11 years ago from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation

      Thanks very much Sage! Many winters in a row of high snow drifts and lots of icy roads can make it rough for anyone, I think. Have a happy weekend.

    • Sage Williams profile image

      Sage Williams 

      11 years ago

      A very well written and informative hub. I have learned much from reading. I have never been diagnosed with SAD, but know that the winter months can be long and grueling at times and that any form of light therapy can help.

      Great job!


    • Patty Inglish, MS profile imageAUTHOR

      Patty Inglish MS 

      11 years ago from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation

      soneonewhoknows - more reason to open up the windows and let in the air, which I do at the beginning of every March. Serotanin pushes the body toward the light and it is up to us to open the window and door and step into it.

      And thanks for an additional Hub at the end, a lot of writing. Even the Bible says to concentrate on what is good and true, which is raising vibrations as well. Thanks.

    • someonewhoknows profile image


      11 years ago from south and west of canada,north of ohio

      You can fly and be in worlds you’ve never known about before. Have you ever caught yourself dreaming? Then you can with ease reform the environment where you are only by thinking of it to change. That´s true in our physical world too. But it takes longer time. In a dream it happens directly. Become a conscious dreamer. Everything that exists in our physical manifestation is light in a special wave, frequency and vibration that we can change.

      What are dimensions? They are higher frequencies of light, which we can’t see with our eyes because we can only see a certain level of vibration per second. If something moves faster than light it becomes invisible. Everything that exists is therefore light and vibrations. Every object has its special vibration, everything you say and think are also vibrations.

      When we die our soul leaves our physical body and transcends into a higher dimension, which we do not see. You can record sound to a CD with assistance of laser light, to a regular cassette tape with help by magnets. Magnetics is known. Our physical bodies, all physical objects, have an aura around them. These gather around the body to keep the form that the energy builds. That field is called an aura – magnetics attaches energy and that is why we can sometimes collect negative energy.

      We shine what we think and feel. In your thoughts you can create and change what you want, that´s how it is in life and after death too. You can shape your dream and go on and do what you feel, that is your highest self. We do not go to a “heaven” as it is said, when we die. We go to another reality, neither up or down, it simply is – everywhere – and eternal. What do you want to do when you die – If you die? You can actually choose.

      You are not controlled, but most souls want to go up to higher frequencies, to experience more of who they are and where they feel resonance. That we die is just something we think we have to do. It has become a pattern. Like much else. Sound, light and colours are the same thing and it is documented. Everything you think about changes senses with aid from the brain.

      The brain is actually only a tool, a computer for the soul, senses and our body. It makes transformation of all this light of physical frequencies to pictures possible – The light goes in through our eyes and makes it possible that we see a 3D –world. The light goes so fast that before you realize it you see it in the present. So there is no future. You create now! You will soon wake up and be conscious that you create with your thoughts. When you realize that, you will wake up from your hibernation and shape your dream in the reality. What we concentrate upon grows.

      Fantasy does not only exist for the sake of existing, it is our power of creation and belongs to our true self. That is why people often dream about what they want to do, but feel themselves limited. Deep inside they feel that they have the possibility to shape their dreams, but can´t quite remember how. Highering vibrations is being done by focusing on what makes you happy. Positive thoughts, freedom, joy and love creates higher vibrations. Lower vibrations are being created by fear, hate, domination etc.

      To raise one’s vibrations can take time, it is a process.

      It´s hard to say that “Now I will be happy all the time”. Because it´s about cleansing and meeting all sides of yourself and others. It´s about loving ourselves as it becomes a gift to give and spread the love to one´s surroundings. We will simply have to start by “choosing” joy, love and freedom in everything that we do. Step by step we can change our thoughts. We have actually been programmed to almost always concentrate upon something negative. Like “I will not pass this exam” When instead we can think “I will do my best and aim at the highest degree”

      Meditation is something that is good to do daily, approximately for 15 minutes. This is for one to learn to be quiet in the mind and to learn to be an observer of the situation. A time will come when the vibrations here on earth will be very high, more love and more joy will be felt in body and soul, maybe as an inconvenience first, if we are not used to this.

      Some have actually forgotten about how it is to be happy. All people on this planet will not be able to do this highering of frequency, they are not mature and will instead choose to “leave” their bodies and live further in a lower frequency. A body and a soul that is in a considerable unbalance may feel that the vibrations in a rise of frequency become too strong. We humans attract to ourselves equal vibrations. That is why thought and feelings are an important part. Self-knowledge is important. That is the key to become a master in love.


      © copyright Ben-Arion

    • anitariley65 profile image


      11 years ago from Little Town Ohio

      I suffer severely from S.A.D. and take to the tanning bed also. In fact, I just bought one from my sister and am very much looking forward to using it during the rainy days that Spring often brings. Thank you Patty for bringing the truth to the matter, as many often label people such as I as "lazy" or just in need of "medication". Sunshine is the best medication there is for many deficiencies. And thank God we have several sunny days ahead of us here in Ohio.

      Great Hub!!!

    • someonewhoknows profile image


      11 years ago from south and west of canada,north of ohio

      Windows prevent ultra-violet rays from coming through. Vitamin D is formed using ultra-violet light.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile imageAUTHOR

      Patty Inglish MS 

      11 years ago from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation

      katiem2 - Yesterday was a wonderful day there wasn't it? Windowless and basement offices are posing a type of SAD problem for some workers, as I see in the news feeds above today. They could use your French doors on the job. Hope today proves sunny for you and your cat as well.

      With Vitamin D coming from the sun, low seratonin levels may be ushing us to that as well.

      coffsnob - Tanning beds are a good idea short-term. The dark tans kind of gives me the creeps!

    • profile image


      11 years ago

      There are times during the winter when I desperately need the light and I head to the tanning bed. I know it is artificial, but it helps. I just don't like having to fight off the sales reps who think I am there for the deep dark tan - I always tell them I don't care about that I just want a little sun.

    • katiem2 profile image

      Katie McMurray 

      11 years ago from Ohio

      Yesterday was a very sunny day. I took to a Yoga pose and soaked up the beeming sun from my french doors. It was pure heaven and so healing. I stayed in the position till the sun moved, about twenty minutes, when I came to from the lost warmth, I opened my eyes to a purring of my cat who was posed just above my head doing the same.... NICE Hub! Peace :)


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