For over 100 years, medical science and psychology have recognized that the winter blues is a very real condition with many of the same symptoms as clinical depression. It has also been found that it affects everyone, to varying degrees.
The winter blues are most often manifested in shortness of temper, irritability, poor sleep or lack of sleep, fatigue, and outright depression. Murder and suicide rates typically rise in the winter months, though only more recently has a strong correlation been found between this and winter blues.
Hitherto, winter blues have been treated much the same way clinical depression is usually treated; with drug therapy. There are several problems with this approach however. First, everyone is affected, but only the most severe cases are treated. Second, the drug treatment often doesn’t work. Third, there is the danger of drug dependencies occurring as a consequence of the use of drugs.
Within the couple decades or so, however, very interesting research has been done to study the effects of light on people suffering from the winter blues. Though the research is continuing, it is very promising.
As winter approaches, the days grow shorter, resulting in fewer hours of sunlight. The trend hits its peak on winter solstice, then the days start gradually getting longer again. This is nothing new. We know that it is the light levels rather than the temperatures that cause deciduous trees and bushes to lose their leaves in autumn, and to start growing them again in spring. Again, this is nothing new.
However, researchers began to wonder if we aren’t actually being affected in a similar way to light levels. At first, the idea didn’t receive much support. Realizing that to get that support, they had to find a way to prove or at least indicate that they were on the right track. They did just that.
The further north a person travels, because of the 23-degree tilt of the earth, the shorter the days become in winter. If there was a real connection, then, winter blues should be worse the further north you go. That is exactly what they found. Cities located in the north did indeed have a higher incident rate of depression, suicides, and people going through drug therapy for the depression, than did southern cities.
When this data was shown, people began to take notice, though many people still had doubts and pointed out that even in northern cities, many workers worked in offices that had constant lighting by neon lights. Yet they seemed to have the same incidence rate of winter depression as others in the cities.
It took very little time, though, for the researchers to figure out that neon lights and regular incandescent lights do not produce the full light spectrum as does sunlight. Even on cloudy days, the full light spectrum gets through to the ground, just not for long enough.
They began to experiment, by replacing the drug therapy used by some of the more severe cases of depression with light therapy. The light therapy is pretty straightforward. The patient was placed in front of a battery of bulbs that gave the entire spectrum instead of only a small band of the spectrum.
Positive findings occurred within only weeks. Compared to others who were still on drug therapy, most of those receiving the light therapy rapidly grew calmer, happier, and reported fewer problems even without the medication. Further, it was found that people only need between 9 and 10 hours of light treatment to be able to feel the effects.
If you are one of those who have a bad case of winter blues, there is now help. Try light therapy to see if it doesn’t help. The bulbs are more expensive than regular bulbs, but they are worth the expense for those who suffer this annual malady. Better still, you don’t have to remain motionless, so you can read, watch TV, or even work while receiving the benefits of the light.