SAD Lights for Winter Merrymaking
By Linda Lippner
SAD lamps: Have you heard of them? SAD stands for Seasonal Affective Disorder and the lamps supposedly help combat its effects. But what is this disorder? Since the booklet that explains my new SAD lamp says it will help give me feelings of heightened alertness, energy and/or mood, I suppose the disorder is a lowered sense of alertness, energy and/or mood. Now, my mood at the height – or depths, as it may be, of the Russian winter can be, a little dicey, even in our brightly lit Moscow. So a mood elevator might be a good thing, especially if it helps me avoid drugstore mood elevators which could adversely affect my mood, alertness or energy to a degree not acceptable for driving, working at my job or just dealing with life as I know it.
I was particularly intrigued by the sentence in the booklet that said if I could only be exposed to bright light first thing in the morning, I would feel more alert and optimistic all day long. Is this possible? Actually, one thing I like about Moscow mornings is they are so nice and dark. I get up in the morning and I can pretend it is still night, my favorite part of the “day”. When I am exposed to bright light fi rst thing in the AM, I get rather grouchy. I think this is because I spent several years in the desert in California, where and it was sunny, sunny, and sunny. An exciting day was when a few clouds drifted by in the blue (and sunny) sky. And this happened very seldom.
But back to the SAD lamp. I read further along and discovered I would have to position the light approximately thirty to sixty cm from my face. It should be directed at my eyes and my eyes must be open to achieve the benefits. This could be a problem when I have more than enough trouble opening my eyes in the early AM and only manage to do so in the hot shower several minutes out of bed. However, I don’t think my SAD lamp can be safely used in the shower. Then it says, “…typically, you will recognize when you’ve received sufficient light therapy – most often by feelings of heightened alertness, energy and/or mood.” They have now repeated that message twice and, subconsciously, I am starting to believe them. But I want some scientifi c proof and further on there it is: “When the Light…is directed toward the eyes, light receptors in the retina trigger a cascade of messages throughout the body….” Just what I want first thing in the morning; a cascade of messages coursing through my body. And now I find out why I need to sell my SAD lamp as soon as possible. “Ultimately, the brain reacts as if it’s a bright sunny day in July, even if it’s the middle of winter.” I HATE JULY! My least favorite month since it is hot, usually muggy and constantly sunny. This is what I came to Moscow to get away from!
But wait, I have noticed that my roommate may have some seasonally affective disorder since she does sleep an awful lot in the winter. In fact, she tends to sleep all day, only getting up to attend to her basic daily needs of eating and toileting. So I have decided to keep my SAD lamp and let Sophie the Cat cheer herself up under the daily glow of a bright summer day in July.