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SAD lamp

Woman sat looking at SAD lamp
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What is a SAD lamp?

A SAD lamp, light or lightbox uses light therapy to help improve the mood of people experiencing seasonal affective disorder (SAD). To understand exactly what a light box is and how it works, we first need to understand what seasonal affective disorder is, read on to find out more.

What is Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)?

Seasonal affective disorder known as SAD, is a type of depression that many people experience in a seasonal pattern each year. It is often referred to as ‘winter depression’ as symptoms can be more noticeable, present and severe during the winter months. Many people attribute their symptoms to the dark, cold and weather, however some people may experience SAD during the summer.

Opposed to feeling unhappy, annoyed or irritable for a few days, depression and SAD is when these feelings last for weeks or months. Your low mood could be affecting daily tasks or your work, and it’s important to remember that depression affects people in different ways and symptoms can vary.

What causes SAD?

Seasonal affective disorder can be caused by several factors, the exact cause is not known, and these can vary between people. The most common causes are believed to be a lack of light as a lack of vitamin D and sunlight affects how the brain and body work:

Body clock is disrupted – your brain uses the hour of daylight to set itself and carry out important functions like waking up and sleeping. A change in your internal rhythm can lead to symptoms of SAD.

Melatonin production – made by the brain when it is dark, this is the hormone that helps us sleep. If you’re experiencing SAD then your body may produce more melatonin than it normally would, causing you to feel sleepy, sluggish and tired.

Serotonin levels – the hormone that influences mood, sleep and appetite. The production of which can be affected by lack of sunlight, a decrease in serotonin levels in the body can lead to feelings of depression.

Some people may be more vulnerable to the condition, especially if they already have a mental illness or sometimes SAD can run in families.

What are the symptoms of seasonal affective disorder?

As we’ve seen SAD can affect people in different ways which means that symptoms can also vary from person to person. The symptoms occur repeatedly during autumn into spring, you may find that each year you experience SAD at the same time, and that it may improve come spring.

Seasonal affective disorder can vary in severity, some people may find that symptoms are manageable and more of a nuisance, whereas for others it can disrupt daily life and work.

Symptoms include but are not limited to:

  • Irritability
  • Feeling tired and lacking in energy
  • Persistent low mood
  • Losing interest in everyday activities
  • Being less active than you normally would
  • Low self-esteem
  • Feelings of worthlessness, guilt or despair
  • Anxiety
  • Lack of concentration
  • Sleeping for longer
  • Struggling to get up in the mornings
  • Stress
  • Increased appetite
  • Tearfulness or crying more than usual
  • Reduced sex drive and loss of interest in sex
  • Not wanting to be around others and feeling less sociable

When should I see my doctor?

If you think you are experiencing seasonal affective disorder it is important that you speak to your GP or a healthcare professional. The condition is nothing to be embarrassed about, it is very common, and you may find that taking the first step to seeking help could help you to feel better. You may want to research treatment options yourself.

What treatments for SAD are available?

Your doctor will be able to recommend treatments for you based on your diagnosis and assessment, these will depend upon your symptoms and what would be best for you. Treatments range from antidepressants to talking therapies and SAD lamps.

Talking to family and friends can help too, it may seem daunting to share how you are feeling but there are plenty of people who care and want to offer you support.

How does SAD light therapy help?

As we’ve mentioned a SAD lamp, light or light box is an at-home treatment option for SAD, but you may be asking yourself whether SAD light boxes really work?

SAD lights produce a very bright light that mimics sunlight which is lacking at certain times of the year. Adding a SAD lamp for winter into your daily routine could help as it’s thought that the light encourages your brain to produce serotonin the hormone that affects your mood. The light also reduces the production of melatonin which makes you feel sleepy and tired.

Although studies have not been conclusive as to the effectiveness of light therapy, it is thought that light therapy is best when used in the morning. Sad lights can also be used alongside medication and other treatments to help with the symptoms you are experiencing. It is best to talk to your doctor about what may be right for you.

It is also thought that SAD lamps give your vitamin D, however is it the broad-spectrum light emitted from SAD lamps helps the skin to produce vitamin D. A lack of vitamin D is thought to play a role in SAD.

Which is the best SAD lamp?

The best SAD lamp for you depends upon several factors. Where do you want to use the light, how much do you want to spend and are you looking for a lamp that you can take to work, have on your desk and then bring home? If so a portable and compact lamp would be a good option for you, although having a budget in mind can help narrow down your search.

However, you may find that you want a SAD light box with a timer to help manage your usage, and an alarm when your time has finished or even a sunrise function that mimics the natural sunrise. There are also SAD lamps that have alarm clocks and radios however these extra features can be more expensive and often not necessary to help with your symptoms.

Make sure to read SAD lamp reviews and testimonials, as other’s real experiences can help you find the right product for you. You can also talk to friends and family, you may be surprised to learn how popular and regularly used light therapy is.

Where can I buy a SAD light?

SAD lamps are available online and on the high street. Here at LloydsPharmacy we have the Beurer TL20 SAD lamp, it offers flicker free UV LED light technology with a light rating of 10,000 lux as well as a handy stand. Ideal for using at home or the office, the SAD lamp is mains operated with a two tilt angles for optimal usage.

How long should you use a SAD light for?

Always read the manufacturer’s information and patient information leaflet included in your light box. This will detail how to use your lamp as well as how long to use a SAD lamp. Recommended treatment lengths vary from 30 minutes to two hours a day, for best results make sure to use your lamp as directed.

Watch the video below to find out how to use the TL20 light from Beurer


What else can I do to help?

Practising selfcare can help your day to day life feel a little bit easier, whether this means taking time to have a bath before bed, enjoying a quick walk on your lunch break or batch cooking meals to have in the freezer. Everyone is different but finding ways to relax that are personal to you can help with your health and wellbeing.

It is also recommended that you take vitamin D supplements between October and March. This is because we cannot get enough of the vitamin D we need due to a lack of daylight and diets. The NHS recommend a supplement of 10 micrograms a day for adults, make sure to always read the label and speak to your pharmacist.

If you’re struggling to get to sleep or experiencing temporary sleeplessness there are products and over the counter medication that may help. There are also products like the Dodow sleeping aid which may help to improve your sleeping habits helping you to fall asleep. Dodow helps you to use meditative and mindful breathing practises to naturally fall asleep.

Remember if you think you might be experiencing SAD or depression speak to your doctor.

References

www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/seasonal-affective-disorder-sad/#.XcQgj1X7QkI
www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10888476
www.nhs.uk/conditions/seasonal-affective-disorder-sad
www.nhs.uk/conditions/clinical-depression
www.nhs.uk/conditions/vitamins-and-minerals/vitamin-d