SAD days ahead for a few who crave daylight

Scene of winter snow

For some people, the seasonal onset of fewer hours of daylight means dealing with seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Since the early 1970’s when some initial research was done, many studies have confirmed that, in some people, there is a bio-chemical connection between exposure to daylight and depression.

The Science of SAD

The optic nerve carries light into the brain for visual processing. It also takes a turn into the hypothalmus – specifically, into a region called the superchiasmatic nucleus.

The light that reaches the superchiasmatic nucleus causes reactions affecting among other things the sleep cycle – circadian rhythms. Early morning exposure to daylight (most importantly the blue part of the daylight spectrum) regulates production of the chemical melatonin. Imbalances in melatonin can lead to sleep cycle problems as well as problems with other chemicals that may lead to depression.

The solution (for some people)

Research shows that any light source (preferrably daylight) at 10,000 lux (1000 footcandles) aimed toward the eye for 30 minutes a day, can be effective. Light sources with a strong blue wavelength component are most effective. Light bulbs marketed as “full spectrum” usually meet this standard, although it is not necessary that light be full spectrum nor is it necessary to purchase pricey light boxes to make them work.

Use Light to Reduce SAD

Any electric light bulb with a “color temperature” of 5000K or higher also meets this standard. Many different wattages of compact fluorescent bulbs that screw into a standard socket and well as long tube fluorescent bulbs are manufactured that meet the 5000K or higher threshold . . . and they are not very expensive. You can get more information on the “color temperature” of light and also see examples of 5000K+ bulbs.

By the way, most people do not have problems with melatonin production regulation even in the darkest days of winter, and there is no research that suggests that treatment with light for non-depressives will lead to any therapeutic benefits for the public at large.

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Dave Burtner

Dave has been active in the lighting industry since 1994. Formerly a member of the Illuminating Engineering Society of North America and certified by the National Council On Qualifications for Lighting Professionals, Dave now writes blog posts, lighting tips and provides lighting product assistance for the Topbulb website.