If you drive at night or have been winter driving extensively in the northern states, and you’re feeling moody, irritable, anxious, low on energy, unproductive, and find it difficult to get up in the morning, then you may have seasonal affective disorder (SAD). SAD is a type of depression caused by getting insufficient sunlight, and afflicts people between 15 and 55 years of age. Your risk of getting this condition decreases as you get older.
While the exact mechanisms of how it occurs aren’t entirely understood, it is known that insufficient sunlight over a protracted period triggers the condition. SAD also goes away when normal sunlight resumes.
Why would insufficient light cause depression? Light entering the eyes interacts with pigments within, which in turn trigger changes in brain chemistry. When daylight enters the eyes, brain chemistry is altered in a way that makes you more alert and energetic. This prepares you to face a new day. Lack of sunlight sets up brain chemistry for rest and sleep.
Ideally, you should have 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of night. When this ratio is skewed toward too little daylight, your brain chemistry becomes unbalanced, and depression sets in.
To counter SAD, you should:
- Get light therapy. This involves sitting in front of a light box placed a specific distance from you for about 30 minutes each day (consult with your doctor on this). The commercial or owner operator truck driver can easily fit this into his daily routine, such as when eating breakfast. This is the most effective and commonly used therapy for SAD.
- Engage in aerobic exercise. This increases dopamine and serotonin levels. Low levels of these brain chemicals triggers SAD. A jogging routine during the daylight hours will also increase your sunlight exposure.
- Use light glasses for SAD. These are glasses containing LED lamps that expose your eyes to light. Because they allow activities involving standing and walking, they’re a more convenient alternative to light boxes.
If you believe you have seasonal affective disorder, see your doctor first to rule out other more serious medical problems.
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