Does winter get you down? You’re not alone; one in three Americans say that winter has a negative impact on their mood and energy at work with one in four naming January as the worst month.
But what happens when the winter blues go too far, leaving us fatigued, uninterested, and depressed?
Seasonal depression affects millions of adults and children in the US. As symptoms continue untreated, Seasonal Affective Disorder becomes more common.
Sunlight Affects Us More Than We Realize
There is a reason we are so drawn to the outdoors on a balmy summer day. Physiologically, sunlight does more for us than just warm up our skin.
Nearly every cell in our body is a vitamin D receptor hungrily soaking in the essential nutrition that we can’t get from just diet alone. Responsible for our immune function, bone growth and health, and increasing the quality of absorption of other essential vitamins, vitamin D deficiencies can be alarming.
Not getting enough vitamin D can lead to frequent colds and other illnesses, tiredness growing to fatigue, and even depression — symptoms that are eerily similar to the experiences of Seasonal Affective Disorder.
Vitamin D needs aside, yet not discounting its necessity, light has other effects on our bodies and minds more than we physically see. In our eyes are cells known as ipRGCs or Intrinsically Photosensitive Retinal Ganglion Cells.
Though these cells are located within the mammalian eye, they don’t contribute to image-forming vision in any way, and instead manage pupil reflexes in relation to light, circadian rhythms, mood, and energy levels.
When reduced daylight and more time spent indoors encourage abnormal or lack of signaling for ipRGCs, we can begin to feel tired during the day. We feel restless at night and depressed during our waking hours. Think something along the lines of light-induced jet lag.
- Disrupted signaling of ipRGCs may affect the hormone melatonin, which helps us calm down enough to sleep;
- Melatonin itself regulates blood pressure and body temperature;
- Indoor lighting may delay melatonin release and contribute to chronic sleeplessness.
How Tech Can Help In Beating Winter Blues
Though there is still much to learn about the effects and causes of Seasonal Affective Disorder, there is enough data to suggest possible treatment plans and they don’t involve simply taking a sunny vacation. Calling on the power of tech, the options are quite literally “brightening up your day.”
In a study conducted in 2018, participants spent their early morning with blue light-emitting goggles on. Just 30 minutes with these spectacles resulted in participants expressing reduced sleepiness during the day.
During the evening, it has been shown to be beneficial to block blue light. It encouraged melatonin production, resulting in a better night’s sleep.
Some tech options include:
- Philips Wake-Up Light: This type of light works by slowly shifting from dim red to bright yellow to mimic sunrise light effects
- Philips Hue Smart Bulbs: These programmable smart bulbs can easily shift from cool tones in the morning to warm tones.
- Somnilight Night Light: emits dim, red light that is not bright enough to negatively affect sleep (like traditional night lights) while providing enough illumination to see even in the dark.
On Treating SAD with Technology
For many folks, developing a comfortable and healthy sleep pattern may be enough to manage the seasonal blues. However, other treatments are also available for more extreme cases.
Blue light blocking glasses feature specialized clear lenses that filter out almost 60% of environmental blue light. Especially useful for individuals with sensitive eyes and those who stare at a computer screen all day, this massive reduction of blue light helps to invest in a night of restful sleep.
Bright light therapy, a proven treatment for Seasonal Affective Disorder, utilizes artificial sunlight. Unlike blue-light-blocking glasses, bright light therapy makes use of the artificial light in an effort to reset a disorder circadian rhythm and combat the physical and emotional darkness of winter.
Some options for light therapy include:
- Light box: It’s affordable and widely available
- Desk lamp: It’s perfect for home or the office and blends into the decor
- Visor: It allows for mobility
- Search features like short wavelength light in cool tones that mimic daylight, and UV filtering.
Be it a mild case of the winter blues or symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder you just can’t shake, we don’t have to live in the cold and dark of winter any longer. From high-tech light bulbs, smart lamps, countless apps to even mobile counseling, there are options to help us thrive and not just survive the winter.