As I child, I couldn’t get out of bed in the mornings when the days got shorter and colder. It was almost as if I was hibernating from Daylight Savings Time, to April. My room had beautiful, but leaky, French windows and there was always a dusting of frost on them. The room was so cold that I learned to sleep without moving too much. When I woke up the only part of my body that was exposed was my face, and I remember not having any feeling in my nose!
I doubt our house was really that cold, but I have always been sensitive to it. I didn’t think about it back then, but being cold and sensitive to dark days runs in the family. My father would be wearing a sweater in July, when everyone else was wearing short-sleeved shirts. He tended to be sleepy all Winter. I just thought he was tired, but as I got older, I found myself wearing Winter coats longer than anyone else on the street and sleeping longer in the winter too.
But that’s not what the topic of this post is really about. It’s about Seasonal affective disorder, also known as SAD. Before it was suggested as an actual disorder by Dr. Norman Rosenthal in 1984, it was assumed that people who felt depressed and sluggish in the darker months of the year were just faking it. Dr. Rosenthal noticed that he had these symptoms when he moved from a sunny South Africa to cold and dark, New York. He began experimenting with exposure to artificial light and began to see that this could make a difference. People who suffer from SAD find themselves, literally “hibernating” when the weather is cold and dark. They often feel sluggish, depressed and they may even gain weight. When I read about this some years ago, I realized that I probably had SAD, too. I bought a light box and it is somewhat helpful. But not as much as full sun exposure in a warm place like the Caribbean or Mexico (preferably with a frosty pina colada in hand)! You can’t use just any bright light, you need one that is close to what natural sunlight would produce, and it has to be many times brighter than normal office (a dose of 10,000 lux, used for 30-60 minutes daily. You have to be close to the light box, but not staring directly at it. I normally turn it on when I’m typing, as I’m doing now . Use in the morning has been suggested to mimic the effects of normal dawn, which is supposed to be more helpful, so that’s when I try to use it. You’re supposed to use it every day, but I have found that if I use it when I’m feeling particularly lethargic, it gives me a boost for a few days.
There are several theories about why people get SAD, but without going into a lot of technical description, researchers still don’t know why some people are so susceptible to the “Winter Blues.” If you’re feeling sluggish and perhaps, a bit depressed, it might be due to way the media hypes happy holidays on television, along with the pressure to feel a joy about the holidays you don’t’ really believe in. It might be the fact that you miss wearing shorts, and seeing the flowers bloom and the trees full of green elaves, or, you might just be feeling the effects of SAD.