SAD lamps help to fight Seasonal Affective Disorder or winter depression. SAD is in fact a mood disorder that usually occurs in winter. In Europe the disorder occurs between September and November and continues until March or April.
The symptoms of SAD are low mood, irritability, tiredness and lack of energy, tendency to oversleep, lack of concentration, loss of libido, decreased social activity and over eating leading to an increase in weight. All these symptoms disappear in spring. The symptoms should occur year after year to define somebody as a SAD sufferer.
SAD exists in various degrees: it can prevent people from functioning normally or just cause discomfort. The lighter version of SAD is often called “winter blues”.
SAD clearly has a physical cause linked to lack of light but the exact trigger is still not known. Less sunlight and shortening of daylight hours may in winter lead to an imbalance in the melatonin and serotonin ratio. Melatonin is a chemical substance produced by a gland in the brain when there is not enough light. Melatonin makes us feel sleepy. The production of serotonin occurs when there is enough light. Serotonin is also called the “happiness hormone”. The excess of melatonin would be one of the factors leading to SAD.
Let’s have a look at some statistics.
About 17% of the United States population would suffer from winter blues. There is a similar figure for the U.K. population. A survey conducted in 2007 established that 20% of the Irish population is affected by SAD. The percentage is higher in the Nordic countries: e.g. 30% of the inhabitants of Laponia (in northern Sweden) would suffer from it.
SAD is extremely rare with inhabitants living within 30 degrees of the Equator as there is an abundance of light. Women are more prone to SAD than men: 80% of the SAD patients are women.
Light therapy is one of the possible treatments for SAD. The SAD lamps are also used to treat biological clock and hormone related disorders due to e.g. jet lag, shift work, changing of the clock, pre-menstruation syndrome or post-natal depression.
There is a variety of models on the market: desktop models, floor models, compact or portable models and they are also available as visors. A desktop model is easy to use whilst you are doing something else by a desk or a table e.g. reading or eating. Floor models usually have a larger light area. The portable models are easy to carry along and the visors allow light therapy on the go.
Choosing the Right SAD Lamp for You
The choice of the lamp will largely depend on your lifestyle. You need to look for a SAD light that will allow you to take an easy daily treatment.
A lamp with a light intensity of 2,500 lux requires a treatment of 3 hours a day. A lamp with 10,000 lux achieves the same result in 20 to 30 minutes.
You will need to consider where you would use the lamp since light boxes can have different efficiency levels depending on the distance between the light box and your eyes.
The portable models are usually quite discrete and can be used in different places if you cannot always be in the same place for your daily treatment. Light therapy should preferably take place in the morning.
SADA, the British Seasonal Affective Disorder Association, recommends you try out the lamps first before you buy.
Your budget might also play a role. You can find a lamp for less than £ 40 but you can also easily find lamps for more than five times this amount. The light intensity (and consequently the treatment time) is a key factor.
For more information, check out our post on the Best SAD Lamps for Light Therapy.
Other SAD Treatments
Light therapy is one way to treat SAD. According to SADA it is effective in up to 85% of the diagnosed cases.
Treatment is also possible with anti-depressant medication, melatonin supplements, cognitive-behavioral therapy and ionized-air administration.