Everyone gets a little bit downhearted when the clocks go back and we end up living without day light for a good proportion of the day. For several years now, I’ve wondered whether I have what is commonly known as the ‘winter blues’ – the medically diagnosed version would be SAD – Seasonal Affective Disorder. Without a diagnosis, the two can be hard to distinguish, but my symptoms range from overwhelming tiredness through to a general low mood and horrendous lethargy. At it’s worst, I have to sleep in the day, just to get through it, and everything – even the smallest thing – seems like too much effort. It’s in winter that I have in the past lost too much weight; loss of appetite can be a symptom as well, as can over-eating. And, I miss the light. I can feel that it’s a physical missing feeling. If I’m very honest, I am far more irritible in winter; small things upset me that more than likely wouldn’t in the summer. It’s weird and it’s got progressively worse over the years. In truth, I don’t think I have full blown SAD – I think I have the ‘winter blues’ (although I think giving that name lessens the reality of it) and it’s something I don’t have any control over. In about September, I can feel everything slowing down and my energy dropping like a stone, and a general feeling of absolute dread because I know that winter is going to be so difficult.
So, this year, I’m not having it! I was offered the chance to use Lumie Lights and grabbed it with unseemly haste. Specialists in light therapy, Lumie lights simulate natural day light. I have one by my bed that comes on gradually (simulating dawn) half an hour before I want to wake up, and I know that in a half-sleep, before I’m fully awake I am turning my face towards the light before the alarm goes off. I also have a larger one that I keep by me whichever room in the house I am working from. Already, I love them. Now, having discussed it with the PR, it’s my feeling that if I did have SAD, I wouldn’t have had the relief I’m having so soon – it would take much longer than the 3-4 weeks I’ve been using them for a full effect to occur. But, I adore these lights. I love waking up knowing I’ve had light streaming over me for half an hour – it doesn’t even wake me some days. I don’t have that heavy dread feeling anymore about getting up on a gloomy day or in the dark. During the day, I’ve noticed that I’m not inclined to want to sleep – that any tiredness is just that, natural tiredness – and doesn’t feel like the same dragging exhaustion. For me, whether it is psychological or not, I cannot tell you how much better the lights make daily life. I don’t say it is a miracle cure but the days when I work from home and have my lights at my side are better days indeed. I cannot recommend these highly enough if you have that awful winter dread and exhaustion, although I will say that the dawn simulator light is an absolute bugger to set correctly.
If you get into the whole SAD business, it’s all about circadian rhythms being out of whack and how light affect the brain chemisty - it affects some people dreadfully. Lumie explain it much better than I can so here’s a direct quote from them:
“Nerve centres in our brain controlling our daily rhythms and moods are stimulated by the amount of light entering the eyes. As night falls, the pineal gland starts to produce a substance called melatonin that tells our body clock it’s night time; bright light at daybreak is the signal for the gland to stop producing this melatonin. But on dull winter days, especially indoors, not enough light is received to trigger this waking up process. Light is also linked to serotonin (also known as or 5HT), a neurotransmitter in the brain. This makes sense because low serotonin levels can cause depression and if you’re depressed it can be difficult to concentrate and complete what would normally be simple tasks. Evidence has shown that serotonin levels increase with exposure to bright light – SSRI drugs such as Prozac have the same effect.”