|Bright light may open up a bright future for you healthBy Sheri Lundstrom About the Author
During the winter months many people suffer from a variety of symptoms due to the lack of sun light. Other than those who suffer from the condition called SAD or Seasonal Affective Disorder, the lack of light has been known to cause stress for those suffering from the following: alcoholism, PMS, panic disorder, Bi-Polar disorder, sleep disorders, and bulimia nervosa. Often in the summer months we feel great but as the stress from the lack of light takes its toll on our bodies the control we had during the summer months diminishes. We have become victims of the seasons.
Both long-term and short term difficulties can result from an out-of-phase wake/sleep cycle, as in the case of those who work night shifts or travel frequently across time zones. They are not alone in their struggle with lack of sun light, although the major difference is they encounter a lack of sun light all year long. They are constantly working against their natural body rhythms. Recently there was a program about the increased health problems in night shift workers.
Many people with seasonal symptoms notice the following changes in appetite, weight gain, drop in energy level, reduction in sex drive, change in sleep/wake patterns, reduction in the quality of sleep, body aches and pain, avoidance of social situations, decreased creativity, irritability, inability to complete tasks, suicidal thoughts.
Have you ever gone to a sunny climate during the winter months and felt an elevation in mood and energy. Unfortunately upon returning home it took less than a week and you were feeling back to your pre-vacation self. Do vacations really give us a lift? Try taking the same vacation time in a balmy Minnesota winter. Do you feel an improvement in energy and mood? Most likely not! The difference seems to be in the amount of sun light we receive. If your Minnesota vacation consisted of outdoor activities along with sunny skies there is a very real possibility that you would have elevated mood and energy.
PMS, can be seasonal, or worsen with the seasons. Although substantial research still needs to be done in this area, clearly there is a link with the female hormonal cycle, melatonin, and circadian rhythms. Many bulimic, alcoholics, and those with panic disorder also see and increased incidence of symptoms in the fall and winter months.
It only makes sense, if the loss of sun light is the cause of the problem, then adding sun light should solve it. We cannot control the progression of the sun from season to season, and the shortened days and lengthened nights. Although we can fool our body into thinking we have.
The main device used in phototherapy is a fluorescent light box. Free-standing boxes or those mounted on a stand are both common. Full-spectrum light is not necessary since intensity is the key factor, but a balanced-spectrum light minus UV emissions is considered ideal. Most reputable light boxes cost from $250 to $500.
Most people require only one phototherapy session a day. The length of that session depends on the intensity of exposure. Currently the most commonly used light box is 10,000 lux. Lux is a measurement of light intensity from a specified distance. At 10,000 lux the average session is 15 to 45 minutes. At 5,000 lux the average session is 30 to 90 minutes.
Particularly promising is phototherapy treatment for PMS. Hormone therapy can be successful, but is often unpredictable. Dietary and exercise programs also can work well, but are hard to adhere. Phototherapy, by the right of its absolute simplicity and naturalness, may be the answer.
If you feel your condition has a seasonal aspect you may want to consider light therapy as a supplemental treatment. Light boxes can be rented or purchased without a prescription but a diagnosis by a qualified health professional is recommended. Insurance companies are becoming more willing to pay for light box units. Make sure to check you insurance coverage.
About the author: Sheri Lundstrom is a SAD sufferer. Because of the major impact these products had on her life, she started Light Therapy Products. Light Therapy Products offers a wide variety of products for enhancing serotonin levels. Light box units, dawn simulators, bulbs, tubes, and books are available for purchase. For Inquiries, please call 651-351-9800.
This article was published in “Twin Cities Wellness” March 1996
Articles are posted for informational purposes only. All articles are reprinted by permission of their respective publisher. Further reproduction without permission by the publisher is prohibited.
Update: 5/24/2004 Lights now cost from $169 to $445. Toll Free: 800-486-6723, website: www.lighttherapyproducts.com