It’s been dark and rainy for the better part of two weeks, making me even more aware of the shortening days.
I clamp my bike into its trainer and climb on for an early-morning ride in the alcove of my living room, under a special set of bright fluorescent lights. I consider these indoor rides and light baths as key to my fall and winter well-being.
I learned about Seasonal Affective Disorder (with the apt acronym of SAD) in the mid-1980s, when I began reading (and later writing) about the research into the syndrome by the National Institutes of Health.
Finally I had a name for the lethargy, brain-fog, and 10-lb.winter weight gain that had plagued me for years. Turns out that for me and many others, the cure is more light, a lot more.
Looking back over my undergraduate college records, I was shocked to see how many incompletes I’d taken for the fall/winter semester over those four years. When the spring light returned, I had no trouble polishing off all those unfinished papers on top of completing the work of the new semester.
SAD affects people differently. In my case, it comes on gradually as summer moves into fall. If I don’t get plenty of exercise and bright light combined, I experience writer’s block, lose my zest for life, and move into a larger jeans size.
Some people suffer debilitating winter depression (if that describes you, seek medical attention), but for many of us, it's more like a seasonal slump. It depresses our quality of life, our productivity at work, and the positive energy needed to sustain our important human relationships.
After learning about SAD, I installed bright, sunlight-mimicking full-spectrum light bulbs throughout my house. At work, I installed full-spectrum fluorescent bulbs in my office cubicle. I noticed immediately that colleagues began gathering in my doorway or inside my space to chat or discuss something, even though we had common spaces to meet.
Studies have shown that people look better, interact more sociably, and work more productively when indoor lighting mimics sunshine, or when office spaces are designed to let in more direct or reflected sunlight.
Getting outside in mid-day helps many people. I try to take outdoor exercise breaks around lunchtime, even on the coldest midwinter days. Even on cloudy days, light reflected from snow-covered ground boosts my mood.
Some people find it helpful to use a “dawn simulator” that mimics springtime awakening by turning on a bedroom light gradually.
The nonprofit Center for Environmental Therapeutics offers a number of resources, including self-assessment tools.