SAD Seasonal Affective Disorder light therapy

Winter depression and SAD Seasonal Affective Disorder light therapy phototherapy: how to use the benefits of light even at home

The symptoms of depression are more frequent and recognizable in winter. Asthenia, insomnia, irritability, lack of appetite or, on the contrary, nervous hunger. Not only in adults, often induced by worries and stress, but also in children. Especially in this period, after a year between pandemiclockdown, absence of human contact. It seems like “not seeing the light at the end of the tunnel”. It is said like this, and there is a meaning. But it’s not just a figure of speech, the explanation is scientific. Light is synonymous with serenity, calm, vitality and the possibility of controlling the situation, of “seeing clearly”. And it instinctively induces a smile, a sense of well-being. In many cases light (of a certain type, even artificial) can alleviate these depressive symptoms.

We talked about it with two experts. The professor Professor Francesco Benedetti, professor of Psychiatry at the Vita-Salute San Raffaele University of Milan, and the Doctor Paola Peroni, pediatrician in Milan and Vimodrone.

Depression and phototherapy: light treatment for children and adolescents

Unless it is necessary according to the doctor’s opinion, “treating children and adolescents with antidepressant drugs can lead to serious risks and side effects”, explains Dr. Peroni. « Light Therapy or Phototherapy in recent years has proven to be a more effective and safe therapeutic alternative. Scientists have found a connection between aspects of mental health and circadian rhythms: the latter are our body’s response to light and darkness, contributing to the release and production of hormones, the sleep-wake cycle, body temperature, appetite and other aspects”.

Studies on phototherapy

Several studies also published on the site have shown that Light Therapy, even in children and adolescents suffering from SAD and other affective disorders, would have benefits similar to those of antidepressant drugs , having in this case no risks or side effects.

In an article published in Neuro Technology and Brain Stimulation In Pediatric Psychiatric and Neurodevelopmental Disorders in 2019, two significant studies are reported in this regard.

Depression decreasing with the right light

 The first research compares two groups of patients aged between 7 and 17 years. The first underwent Light Therapy for a week , while the second is not. The results showed asignificant reduction in depressive symptoms in the first compared to the placebo group.

In the second study reported, the effects of Light Therapy were studied compared to a soft placebo light in 27 adolescents between 14 and 17 years old : a significant reduction in depressive symptoms was found after treatment in both groups, but in patients treated with Light Therapy melatonin levels increased in the evening and decreased in the morning, thus stabilizing the sleep-wake cycle.

SAD  Seasonal Affective Disorder light therapy,

Getty Images

What is phototherapy?

«Light therapy is an antidepressant intervention based on stimulation of the biological clock , and that this biological rhythm is greatly influenced by the rhythm of the seasons”. In the brain with a cyclical pattern during the day and night, are released dopaminenorepinephrine, and serotonin,. – Scientific research in the field of neuroscience has observed that neurotransmitters, such as through the same environmental stimuli (light, darkness) that synchronize its activity every day – explains the professor

Why does it work against depression?

During depression this mechanism does not work with the necessary regularity: light therapy aims to synchronize the biological clock again, in order to restore the normal rhythm of neurotransmitter production and well-being. The effect observed is that of having more energy in the morning, counteracting the symptoms of depression which are worse in the morning.

Why do we suffer from depression more often in winter?

«The seasonal rhythm of production of neurotransmitters that regulate mood and energy levels sees the maximum activity in summer, and the minimum in winter. This rhythm is regulated by the amount of light that floods our planet: by recording it, our brain knows what season we are in and adjusts its operating rhythm. serotonin, for example, is released in the brain ten times more in summer than in winter. This rhythm influences our activities, making us more active in the summer and more oriented towards staying at home and saving energy in the winter. Unfortunately, in the so-called ‘in-between seasons’, in spring and autumn, when the rate of serotonin production changes abruptly, people can getting depressed. We know that those who get sick have wider variations, and using light we intervene in a natural wayon these mechanisms, correcting their functioning. A bit like if we were resetting a clock that is acting up”, explains Benedetti.

What characteristics must the lamp have to provide benefits?

The best is the white, brilliant, ‘cold’ light: like that of dawn, which in the world of nature is the stimulus which every morning ‘sets up’ the biological clock of man and other animals. You can find an enormous variety of ad hoc lamps by searching for “Light Therapy” on online sales sites. Prices vary from around 50 to over 200 euros.

SAD  Seasonal Affective Disorder light therapy,

Getty Images

Sunlight/artificial light: can artificial light also be useful?

Yes, but it must have characteristics similar to those of sunlight, at dawn, which is the natural synchronizer. The normal light bulbs we use at home have insufficient intensity.

How to choose the right lamp

«In now forty years of scientific research, we have understood that lamps must emit light above 5000 lux to be effective, and that white light is the most powerful. There are many lamps on the market that emit light at an intensity of 10000 lux, which is the certified therapeutic standard. The advice is to avoid products of dubious origin: light is light, but the fact that the manufacturer has registered its lamp as medical device, according to CE standards, is an additional guarantee that the lamp emits light with the characteristics described. There are also visors that are worn like glasses, and emit light directly into the eye”, recommends Benedetti.

How to use the lamp?

It’s very easy: just expose yourself to light for half an hourimmediately after waking up . In fact, it is as soon as we wake up that our clock has maximum sensitivity to the synchronizing effects of light. It is not necessary to look directly at the lamp: it is the peripheral part of the retina that is connected to the biological clock. I recommend lighting the lamp on the table while having breakfast, or while leafing through the morning newspapers… Just let the light enter the eye, as it would happen if we took a walk on a summer morning.

For how long each day?

In the first experimental studies, light was used in the morning and in the evening, but it has been shown that half an hour in the morning is sufficient to produce the desired benefits.

Can it cause side effects?

«When used to treat depression, light therapy should be considered a antidepressant in all respects: indeed, in depression winter may also be sufficient as the only therapy. The advice for those suffering from clinical depression is therefore touse it as one would use a drug: under medical supervision, and combining it with pharmacological and tone-stabilizing treatments mood, which are strengthened and in turn support its effect. In this sense, the side effects of this antidepressant treatment such as mood swings, anxiety, irritability, are much lower than those of pharmacological antidepressants. And in most cases non-existent”, explains the expert.

And can vision be disturbed?

«Sight is not a problem: 10,000 lux may seem like a lot, but a ray of sunshine in July has 100,000, so there is no more risk to the eye than taking a walk.

Even many people who do not have full-blown depression routinely use lamps of this type to keep their biological rhythms in order. Especially in the regions closest to the poles, where night occupies most of the winter days and a little light in the morning is useful for maintaining a normal level of energy in the dark season”, explains Benedetti.

Can it cause skin problems (like UV lamps)?

No, the infrared and ultraviolet components of sunlight, responsible for heat and effects on the skin, are not emitted by light therapy lamps, because they are not used to synchronize the biological clock: they are lamps that don’t heat or tan!

Basic information on light therapy

JakobsenRED products are NOT medical aids, but wellness devices, the correct use of which is generally good for the body, mood and well-being. Light treatment is always only a complementary and non-curative therapy. The information available on this site does not under any circumstances constitute a doctor’s consultation, visit or diagnosis. This website does not provide Medical Consultations. It does not replace the advice of your doctor regarding your personal health. Any information regarding health conditions, medications, medical treatments  is presented for general and indicative purposes only. The information and news on the site should not be considered complete or exhaustive. You will use this website under your sole and exclusive responsibility.

Shopping Basket
Scroll to Top