Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that’s triggered by changing seasons. During the fall and winter months, as the days become darker and shorter, it can get challenging to get enough natural sunlight for our bodies to function properly. This lack of sunlight causes people to experience typical depressive symptoms such as low energy, mood swings, excessive sleeping, and feelings of hopelessness and sadness.
While both medication and psychotherapy may be used as interventions for seasonal affective disorder, clinicians often go with red light therapy as their first choice.
By causing biochemical changes in the brain, red light therapy effectively relieves symptoms of the “winter blues” and improves mood. Read on to learn more about red light therapy and its advantages for seasonal depression.
What Is Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)?
If shorter days and shifts in weather make you feel blue or zap out your energy, chances are that you may be suffering from seasonal affective disorder (SAD) – a form of depression caused by changes in sunlight, primarily in fall and winter.
Studies demonstrate the importance of natural light for physical and mental health. A lack of access to it can be a big hurdle to your well-being and may cause you to develop certain mental health issues.
So, why does SAD happen? Experts aren't sure, but some think that those seasonal changes disrupt our body's internal clock, the circadian rhythm, which regulates several critical functions, such as when we wake up, our physical strength, mental alertness, and more. The decreased light levels in the fall and winter months upset the biological clock and trigger SAD symptoms.
Another theory is that seasonal changes lead to chemical imbalances within the brain. Lower serotonin levels caused by the lack of sunlight lead to anxiety and depression, while the altered melatonin levels may impact the mood and sleeping pattern.
Signs and symptoms of SAD may include:
- Feeling restless, listless, or down most of the time
- Experiencing low energy levels or feeling sluggish
- Appetite changes, especially a craving for carbohydrate-rich foods
- Difficulty concentrating
- Loss of pleasure or interest in activities once enjoyed
- Having constant negative thoughts
What Is Red Light Therapy?
Red light therapy, or photobiomodulation, describes a light treatment that includes natural red and near-infrared (NIR) wavelengths. It’s just like the wavelengths you'd get from the sunlight but without the potentially harmful UV rays.
When a person receives red light therapy, the wavelengths pass through the skin's surface and reach the brain, affecting the cells in multiple ways.
The mitochondria are the powerhouse of our body that produces adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the "energy currency" responsible for carrying out bodily functions. Red light therapy acts as a stimulator, increasing the production of ATP and enhancing cellular function. The cells can work at a higher capacity and generate more energy. This results in reduced fatigue, increased strength and power, and improved performance.
Oxidative stress refers to the imbalance between antioxidants and free radicals in our body. Free radicals are harmful molecules produced through metabolic activities that cause damage to body fats, proteins, and DNA structure through inflammation. Antioxidants play a pivotal role in offsetting free radials and mitigating these effects.
Red light therapy modulates the level of reactive oxygen species (ROS) and promotes the production of antioxidants. By doing so, it improves various aspects of health, including pain relief, wound healing, muscle recovery, skin rejuvenation, cognitive function, and more.
Red light therapy improves blood circulation by stimulating the production of nitric oxide (NO) in our cells. NO is a potent vasodilator that relaxes the walls of blood vessels, allowing for increased blood flow through arteries and veins. This ensures that more nutrients reach the cells and that waste is efficiently removed from the area.
How Does Red Light Therapy Combat Seasonal Affective Disorder?
Numerous clinical trials show a positive correlation between light therapy and improved seasonal depression symptoms. This is because red light therapy acts as a replacement for the sunlight you miss out on, producing the same benefits as natural light.
With red light therapy devices, you can get a full day's worth of natural light in just a few minutes. As mentioned above, it then stimulates the mitochondria, increases energy levels, boosts metabolism, and decreases inflammation to keep you feeling at your best, no matter the weather.
Light therapy also helps relieve sleep-related issues such as oversleeping or insomnia associated with seasonal depression. The red and near-infrared wavelengths regulate melatonin levels and optimize your sleep/wake cycle. This means that you will have more energy during the day and will be able to wind down more easily at night.
As a plus, red light therapy starts working faster than other treatment options for depression. People often report better and enhanced moods just after a few sessions, with maximal results attained after consistent use.
Start Fighting Seasonal Affective Disorder With Red Light Therapy
If you are experiencing mood disorders, excessive anxiety, or depression, you can’t enjoy life to its fullest. Everything seems meaningless, and you might feel on the edge constantly. The dark winter months don’t make matters any easier.
The right treatment can bring you out of these problems. Using red light therapy is the safest method to get your healthy dose of natural light and steer away from such conditions.
By going for red light therapy devices such as Hooga, you can get more natural light in your home, even when it gets dark before the end of the workday. Because red light therapy is non-toxic, non-invasive, and easy to use, it will likely become a mainstream seasonal depression treatment in the coming years. Forward-thinking researchers and physicians agree and are already using it as a first line of treatment for SAD and related conditions.
From waking up refreshed in the morning to staying active throughout the day, there is so much you can achieve with red light therapy. With regular use, you will start noticing positive effects in as little as a few weeks!