Effects, treatment of Seasonal Affective Disorder

by Sarah Clum
86th Aerospace Medical Squadron health and fitness specialist

Are long winter days giving you the blues? Do you feel like you just aren’t yourself as the winter months drag along? You aren’t alone, and the Ramstein Health and Wellness Center has something that might benefit you.

Seasonal affective disorder is a kind of depression that typically occurs in the winter, more often in areas where there is little sunlight. Women tend to be affected more often than men, but anyone can experience symptoms.

Classic symptoms include a lack of energy, poor concentration, hopelessness, increased sleep, loss of interest in work or other activities you normally enjoy, sluggish movements, social withdrawal and irritability. Symptoms tend to build slowly in late autumn as the nights grow longer and there is less daylight.
If you have noticed these symptoms occurring primarily in the winter months and diminishing as the days lengthen when sunlight is more prevalent, you may be a good candidate for light therapy.

Light therapy involves using a full-spectrum light that mimics outdoor light and is shown to be an effective treatment for seasonal affective disorder. Light box therapy guidelines suggest using the box with the light shining toward you, but not directly into your eyes.

Three key elements make light therapy most effective: duration, timing and intensity. For duration, you might start with 15 minutes of therapy and gradually build to the 30-minute to two-hour recommendation. The timing of light therapy is also important since light therapy simulates outdoor light. If timed later in the evening, you might have a disruption in your regular sleeping pattern. It is most effective when used in the morning rather than at night.

Light box intensity is recorded in lux, which is the amount of light received at a specific distance from the source of light. The range is usually between 2,500 and 10,000 lux and affects the distance you need to sit from the box as well as the amount of time needed for it to be effective. Light boxes that are 2,500 lux require two-hour sessions for optimum effectiveness, but a 10,000 lux light box only requires 30-minute sessions. The Ramstein HAWC provides a 10,000 lux light box for use in its relaxation room.

To try a light box, call the Ramstein HAWC at 480-HAWC (4292) or visit Bldg. 2117A (annex of the southside gym).

Additionally, if you’re concerned that you might have seasonal affective disorder, contact your primary care manager or the mental health clinic.