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Light therapy is successful against winter depression
Winter depression, the "winter blues", is often due to a vitamin D deficiency or excessive melatonim emissions caused by a lack of sunlight. In contrast, light therapy should help.
If we feel powerless from the beginning of November, the "autumn blues" attacking us, it is less because of the "autumn atmosphere" in general, but because of the lack of sunlight associated with it.
The affective winter disorder
Up to 100,000 lux are exposed on a cloudless summer day, and only 3500 lux on a dark day in mid-December. Winter depression is a seasonal affective disorder. In German: We have mental problems and physical complaints like depression, which is triggered by the season or the lack of light in this season.
When is it not a winter depression?
In order to diagnose depressive moods in winter (it is rarely a clinical depression) as winter depression, other triggers must first be ruled out: If the sufferer suffers a separation crisis, for example, another cause would be possible - as well with similar symptoms in summer.
How can you recognize winter depression?
It is typical for a winter depression that the symptoms begin without other possible triggers at the beginning of November to December and subside again at the end of March / beginning of April, also without other triggers.
Just a state of mind?
We popularly speak of “winter blues” just as we negligently say “I am depressed” when we are frustrated. With winter depression there are, however, light, medium and heavy forms. The severe cases are associated with a high level of suffering.
Hormones and daylight
The day-night rhythm shifts with the length of daylight. The earlier the darkness sets in, the more the levels of the hormones serotonin and melatonin change.
What do the hormones do?
Serotonin and melatonin work together. Serotonin is our “feel-good hormone” and melatonin organizes the sleep-wake rhythm. It is poured out in the evening, i.e. when it gets dark. If the serotonin drops in the afternoon and the melatonin level rises, we feel less “happy” and at the same time tired.
Melatonin for winter depression
The following can be observed in people suffering from winter depression: while in healthy people the level of melatonin only increases in winter when they go to bed in the evening, it is much higher all day long in winter depressives than in those not affected. In the evening it rises only a little. The result: those affected are tired during the day and can hardly sleep at night.
What does light therapy do?
The light therapy now replaces the missing light and thus lowers the melatonin level during the day. Artificial light travels to the midbrain in the early dark morning and from there the production of melatonin is balanced.
How are you?
Affected people should use lamps with a light intensity of 10,000 lux and sit in front of the lamp one hour in the morning at a maximum distance of 80 cm. You should regularly turn directly to the light. This in no way prevents them from reading or working on the laptop during this hour.
Danger to the eyes?
The medical light lamps used emit white light from the entire spectrum and are harmless to the eyes.
Light therapy works against winter depression after just a few days. Those affected should get their own lamp, because the therapy only works if the patient uses it continuously from November to March. Otherwise, the depression begins again after a few days.
Around half of all winter depressives who underwent light therapy do not need additional medication.
Light therapy as a preventive measure?
Light therapy has no side effects, which is also why it can be used well before the first symptoms appear. Conversely, the more severe the depression has become, the more difficult it is to cure it.
A chronic illness?
Winter depression is probably not a disease that lasts for life. Most patients are between 30 and 50 years old, very few are young, and only a few are older than 65.
Those at risk as well as the healthy should not simply do light therapy without using natural light. In winter it is cold, wet and cloudy. Nevertheless, you should not sit on the warm sofa all day, but go out as much as possible in the light. 3500 lux on a December day is far less than in summer, but still far more than the approximately 500 lux in an office job at the window. (Dr. Utz Anhalt)