Health: Feeling SAD lately?

You don’t have to feel blue just because it’s black outside

You wake up, it’s dark. You leave work, it’s dark. It’s only 6 p.m. and you’re ready to head home and crawl under the covers. If over the last few weeks you’ve noticed yourself morphing from your stay-up-till-dawn summer self to your winter-hibernation, don’t-bother- me-I’ll-growl-like-an- angry-bear alter ego, you may be struggling with seasonal affective disorder (SAD). A form of depression, SAD affects those who react negatively to the dwindling amount of sunlight and the frigid temps of the fall and winter months.

Besides being extra groggy, those struck with SAD may find themselves feeling clinically depressed, craving starchy, anything-with-tons-of-carbs foods, gaining extra pounds, withdrawing from social interaction, and sleeping up to four hours more a day. In the most severe cases, people are unable to function in their normal lives and should seek out professional help immediately. However, the majority of individuals never reach that point, although they still struggle with a few of the symptoms mentioned above.

No matter how low you go, feeling better may be as easy as flicking on a switch. “If you’re able to hold your job and do normal activities, but feel a little more tired and sluggish, you might be responsive to light therapy,” says George C. Brainard, Ph.D., director of the Light Research Program and Professor of Neurology at Thomas Jefferson University. Although antidepressants have also been proven to help SAD sufferers, light therapy is the first approach to treating this seasonal slump.

Just as the ear allows you to hear while at the same time keeping you balanced, the human eye contains two different sensory systems. “One we’re aware of and allows us to see the world, and that’s our vision,” says Dr. Brainard. “The other, we are less aware of, but keeps track of our biological rhythms. We suspect, although we don’t know for sure, that this is how light therapy works.”

Look for SAD therapy lamps and light boxes that offer 10,000 LUX, and try to get your daily dose of pseudo-sun as early in the day as possible, as studies have shown that this level of light and early exposure yield the best results in the majority of users.

This week, I’ve been trying out Verlixu’s HappyLite Mini Ultra ($99.95. It’s only 5,000 LUX, so it’s recommended to soak up at least 60 minutes each day. (Something that’s quite easy to do, as I’ve placed it on my desk at work.) Four days in and I’m already noticing that I feel more energized as I walk to catch the train after work, and a few officemates have noted that I seem more “chipper.” Most people see results in about a week, although it can take up to four to five weeks.

However, to get the best results, Dr. Brainard recommends contacting the Seasonal Affective Disorder Program at the Margolis Berman Byrne Health Psychology Clinic (1015 Chestnut Street, Suite 901, 215-592-0139) to set up an appointment. And because SAD is a direct result of external factors rather than internal, most people are able to set up an effective treatment program with their doctor in the first visit, and don’t need to schedule regular therapy sessions as they would if treating other forms of depression. “There are interventions that are proven to work,” says Dr. Brainard. “One shouldn’t suffer in silence.”

For more information on SAD, visit