Not again this year, SAD sufferers just need to see the light - Hi-Desert Star: Letters To Editor

Not again this year, SAD sufferers just need to see the light

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Posted: Tuesday, January 15, 2013 6:30 pm

“Every winter it’s the same thing. I feel awful from late fall until late February. I’m sleepy all day, can’t sleep at night, depressed and grouchy. I really can’t help it.

I crave all carbs, mostly chips. I gain weight, but lose it in the spring. Weird!”

I hear this yearly. Symptoms vary, the misery doesn’t. People are relieved to find there’s help, even to know it has a name: Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD. It affects around 5 percent of the population.  Maybe not you, but likely someone you know has it. Here’s why it happens and what helps.

Seasons and our biology interact. Light controls the pineal gland which in daytime produces serotonin, a mood regulator. At night time, it produces melatonin, which puts us to sleep. In spring and summer, when there’s a sharp difference between daytime and night, the pineal readily switches production.

Two things change in late fall and winter. Days get shorter and the sun isn’t as bright as it is in spring and summer. The pineal of individuals with SAD doesn’t switch off melatonin production when the weaker sun comes up but continues with melatonin. It still “thinks” it’s night time.

The numbers tell us more

Light intensity is measured in lux. In summer at noon sunlight exceeds 100,000 lux. In winter here at our latitude just before Christmas 2012, direct sunlight only provided 13,000 lux. That’s intense enough for most people for proper pineal functioning.

Yet the next day was overcast and sunlight dropped to 2,500 lux, when SAD sufferers didn’t get enough daylight for their brains to shut off their melatonin production. They remained sleepy during the day, maybe seeking coffee to stay awake. Since they didn’t make enough serotonin, they also craved the ingredients in carbs to make more.

One cloudy day is bad for SAD but a straight week or two of them is intolerable.

Simple, right? If you lack light, then get more. The first choice is free: More direct sunlight. Sitting in the sun or taking a walk can both work, but without sunglasses, which can cut light up to 85 percent.

If that doesn’t work, there are special light boxes that simulate extra sunlight, available for under $75 on the Internet that provide 10,000 lux. Exposure can be as little as 15-minutes once in the morning or a couple of times spaced through the day depending on need. Light boxes come with instructions, and the bulbs in these boxes last for years.

It takes a few days before improvement and consistent use throughout the winter season, especially on overcast days, to obtain optimal results.

However, be cautious if you have eye problems, are bipolar, or take medicines that make you photosensitive. Check with your doctor before proceeding with light therapy. Side effects can occur, which small changes in distance from the light or duration of exposure usually correct. Side effects can include headaches, insomnia, or dry eyes, and in rare instances, a manic episode.

Light might not be the only issue. Vitamin D can decrease in winter, an issue easily measured with a blood test and corrected with a supplement. In some cases, an antidepressant is necessary, but usually the place to start is with natural light and, if necessary, adding artificial light.

If the extra light works, adjust your routine to start using it every year just before you normally get the symptoms to avoid even starting another year like those from your past.

© 2016 Hi-Desert Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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  • Dr Karman posted at 3:59 pm on Tue, May 14, 2013.

    Dr Karman Posts: 4

    Just about 5 months ago, a few days before Christmas, I measured the sun intensity in the Morongo Valley at 13,000 lux. On a cloudy day about then it was only 2,500 lux. Today at about noon it was 127,000 lux. For those with SAD, that's a difference that makes a big difference....

  • Dr Karman posted at 11:22 am on Tue, Jan 22, 2013.

    Dr Karman Posts: 4

    A good friend asked where I got the measurements I wrote about. I tried my best to find light intensity measurements for this area on the Internet without success, so I went to and bought a light intensity meter. I went out in my backyard and aimed it at the sun on a sunny day and at the sky on the next cloudy day. To figure out how sunglasses affect the light intensity I set a light box on the kitchen table and the light meter a couple feet away. I noted the reading. I then put my own blue-blocker sunglasses in between them and noted the drop in light intensity. I plan to measure light intensity at noon every month to see how it changes here in the Morongo Basin area until it reaches its maximum in June. Hope that helps.

  • Dave Peach posted at 7:59 am on Thu, Jan 17, 2013.

    Dave Peach Posts: 2998

    While "thinking differently about any given issue or situation can help one feel differently", and while various means of mitigating "depression", an underlying aspect of "SAD"(ness) are widely available, appropriate diagnosis and treatment requires more appropriate diagnoses and treatments than widely available.

    "The blues" are normal to all normal people, and can be temporarily or permanently alleviated by over-the-counter remedies and/or generalized advice.

    "Black moods" require more professional intervention, hopefully soon more commonly accessible in clinics rather than online, or instead of in courtrooms and prison cells, such as have erroneously, destructively and cruelly become regarded as adequate, more appropriate and more affordable.

  • Dr Karman posted at 7:58 am on Thu, Jan 17, 2013.

    Dr Karman Posts: 4

    No disrespect taken, Desertben. Candide is certainly strong and enduring satire. For those wishing to save money, Candide (Voltaire, 1759) is available along with 40,000 other free e-books at in text and in Kindle formats. Named in honor of Johannes Gutenberg, inventor of the printing press, Project Gutenberg brings books and other materials now past copyright to anyone with computer access.

  • Desertben posted at 4:35 am on Thu, Jan 17, 2013.

    Desertben Posts: 426

    I meant no disrespecdt for the authors kindly advise, but surely he would agree that as Candide is so packed with calamities, by comparison, SAD ranks low on the list. Surely after comparing all of Candide’s woes, one must realize how well off one is. That is aalso therapeutic.

  • Dr Karman posted at 12:26 pm on Wed, Jan 16, 2013.

    Dr Karman Posts: 4

    I wanted to be sure that readers of my article and the comments that followed it understand that there is a difference between a traditional sunlamp intended for tanning purposes and a full spectrum light intended for treatment of seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Sunlamps typically include ultraviolet light that tans the skin. The full spectrum lights used for SAD do not. Only use lights whose manufacturers clearly state their purpose is for SAD treatment. A sunlamp's ultraviolet light can damage the eyes. If you have questions about this, please consult your eye doctor or general practitioner before proceeding.

  • Dave Peach posted at 8:12 am on Wed, Jan 16, 2013.

    Dave Peach Posts: 2998

    Beneficial advice generally beats chemical crutches and the often unpredictable side effects.

    Additionally, psychiatrists are physicians, authorized to prescribe dangerous medications after only two years of psychiatric training. Conversely, psychologists such as the author study psychology throughout their more comprehensive and pertinent advanced education and training, and must instead rely on more proven and generally safer remedies.

    Coastal scud throughout springtime indeed makes desert sand substantially more appealing, and therapeutic, than becoming or remaining a beach crab.

    As does the local presence of generals and grunts vice admirals and squids.
    Perhaps more so.

    *Please also enlighten us on the dangers associated with corporal punishment, and especially the availability of unduly lethal weaponry, amid underfunded and inadequate public mental health care.

  • Desertben posted at 8:07 am on Wed, Jan 16, 2013.

    Desertben Posts: 426

    If you resort to sun lamps, I suggest you stand in some grow juice and develoope hydroponically .

    Joking aside,, I suggest you get a copy of Voltaire’s “Candide,” read it and you will feel a lot better.


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