As we head into the depths of winter when the daylight hours are fewer, many Montanans feel the effects of seasonal affective disorder, or SAD. For some people, when lower levels of light hit the backs of their retinas in winter, these people start to feel depressed. Increasing one’s exposure to natural light often cures those winter blues caused by low light exposure.
Since spending more time outdoors in winter isn’t always an option, I recommend the use of a light box for SAD. Light boxes mimic the sun’s natural light, which affects brain chemicals related to mood. Sitting in front of a light box each winter morning for fifteen to thirty minutes helps many people feel more energetic and keeps their moods stable through the dark winter months. Light boxes emit bright light, but must have the damaging ultraviolet rays filtered out. Ultraviolet rays can damage the eyes and the skin.
Patients have asked me about using a tanning bed in winter to treat their cases of SAD. Remember that tanning beds are harmful due to the UV-A and UV-B light that they emit. Overexposure to UV rays can cause skin cancer, cataracts, a suppression of the immune system, and premature aging of the skin. Do not be tempted to treat SAD symptoms with a tanning bed. Part of good health is having good energy and a good mood, attainable by staying active through the winter, and considering the use of a light box if you suffer from SAD.