Sunday October 12, 2003

Does Winter make you SAD?

It's the middle of October. The middle of Autumn. The next three and a half months are my least favorite time of the year. We live in the San Francisco Bay Area, 37.8° North latitude (about even with Richmond, VA to the east); if we lived much further north, I probably wouldn't like February either.

Winter is too dark. The days are too short. It's bad enough right now, but on Sunday Oct. 26, we'll turn the clocks back. Then it will get darker even faster in the evening. Full dark by 5:30 pm. Yuch.

Throughout the centuries, poets have described a sense of sadness, loss and lethargy which can accompany the shortening days of fall and winter. Many cultures and religions have winter festivals associated with candles or fire. Many of us notice tiredness, a bit of weight gain, difficulty getting out of bed and bouts of "the blues" as fall turns to winter.

However some people experience an exaggerated form of these symptoms. Their depression and lack of energy become debilitating. Work and relationships suffer. This condition, known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) may affect over 10 million Americans while the milder, "Winter Blues" may affect a larger number of individuals.

The typical symptoms of SAD include depression, lack of energy, increased need for sleep, a craving for sweets and weight gain. Symptoms begin in the fall, peak in the winter and usually resolve in the spring. Some individuals experience great bursts of energy and creativity in the spring or early summer. Susceptible individuals who work in buildings without windows may experience SAD-type symptoms at any time of year.

[c.f. Seasonal Affective Disorder and Light Therapy

My sister realized that the "winter blues" were real when she lived in Chicago, in an apartment where only the bedroom got much sun. She realized she was spending all of her at-home time in the bedroom, never in the living room or kitchen.

I used to work in a relatively dim home office — one standard 100W incandescent ceiling light. I have a window onto a sunroom, but never have a lot of bright sunlight. At jobs, I rarely had an office with a window, and I used to prefer a halogen "torchiere" lamp or two to the overhead fluorescent lights. Many office workers turn down the overhead lights to prevent glare.

Then I started to think about how winter makes me feel. I considered my sister's comments. I made some major adjustments to the way I think about lighting.

These days, Rich and I both have four 4-ft fluorescent ceiling fixtures in our home offices. We make sure we use a lot more light than we used to. Last summer I had a temporary job where I worked for 10 weeks in an office environment where most of the ceiling lights on the floor were disabled; it was like working in a cave! I asked Facilities to turn on the fixture above "my" cubicle. At least I had light. Still, the lack of windows on the floor was depressing. And, this was in summer.

If you're affected by the shorter, darker, days in winter, be sure you use more light in your home. There are special lamps available, for example the Litebook or the Sun Touch (by Apollo Health). These products have been coming down in price over the past few years but they are still expensive ($150 - $200). There are also special bulbs that produce a more "daylight-like" light; these are a LOT cheaper and can be placed in your ordinary fixtures.

The important thing to remember in the winter months is to get as much light as possible, preferably sunlight or bright indoor lights. Try to get outside during some of those short daylight hours and go for a walk. Install fluorescent fixtures to complement the incandescent lights in your home. Turn on the lights when you're in a room that has them. If you need more help, see your doctor.

This winter, perhaps you can avoid being SAD.

Does Winter make you SAD? ( in category SciTech ) - posted at Sun, 12 Oct, 00:04 Pacific | «e»