Whether you call it seasonal affective disorder (SAD), the winter blues or light deprivation, now is the time of year that sufferers begin to feel the symptoms creeping in, peaking in January and February.
As we try to adjust to the recent time change, the days grow shorter and we spend more time confined to the house. The lack of sunlight, or just plain daylight, can have a detrimental effect on our overall health.
Once ignored by the medical profession, SAD is now recognized as a real disorder and can be debilitating for those suffering from its side effects. Symptoms range from fatigue, depression, mood swings and sleep problems to carbohydrate cravings and unwanted weight gain.
Those in the throes of SAD may feel particularly alone and isolated but it is believed there are as many as 44 million Americans affected.
Nobody knows exactly what causes SAD but it is strongly believed to be the lack of melatonin from the decline in sunlight during the winter months causing an imbalance in the brain. It is also unknown why 75 percent of sufferers are women of child bearing age.
Many doctors recommend those with the severest symptoms invest in a light-therapy lamp which can range in price anywhere from $40 to $300. The light gives off artificial sunlight to the user simulating day light.
Ideally, treatment should begin in the fall before symptoms begin to surface and should be used for at least 30 minutes every day until the longer, lighter days return in the spring.
The lamps typically contain a fluorescent tube with parabolic reflectors. One example is the SADelite bright-light therapy lamp from Northern Light Technologies ($195) which delivers 10,000 lux of light (lux is the measure of light intensity). Outside on a sunny, spring day we receive approximately 81,000 lux of light but inside our homes there is normally only 400-700 lux. The light therapy lamp only uses 85 watts. It is not heat generating so is safe to use as a work desk lamp. The SADelite has a tube life of 5,000 hours
Another gadget that has been recommended for sufferers is the SunRise clock ($110) which simulates the sun rising at dawn. The light from the clock begins to glow and light up the room at gentle stages at 15-30, 60-90 minutes before you program it to wake you, allowing for a more natural awakening during the winter.