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Exploring Light Therapy for Seasonal Affective Disorder

Exploring Light Therapy for Seasonal Affective Disorder

The daylight hours have been getting progressively shorter for the past five months, and we’re currently entering the coldest stretch of the year. Lack of sunlight and cold temperatures often combine to cause many Utahns to suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) – a type of depression that’s related to changes in seasons. With that in mind, we sat down with Dr. Kurtis Woolf, Family Medicine Physician at Ogden Clinic, to ask what we can do to identify and avoid Seasonal Affective Disorder this winter.

Q: What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?

A: Seasonal Affective Disorder is a subcategory of depression. For most Utahns with Seasonal Affective Disorder, symptoms start in the autumn and continue through the winter months.

Signs and symptoms of SAD might include:

  • Having low energy
  • Losing interest in activities
  • Having trouble concentrating
  • Feeling depressed
  • Feeling sluggish or agitated
  • Having difficulty sleeping
  • Experiencing changes in appetite or weight

Q: How do you treat Seasonal Affective Disorder?

A: There are two traditional ways to treat SAD. First, of course, is with standard antidepressant medications. A second, lesser-known treatment is the use of a light therapy lamp. You can find light therapy lamps on Amazon for as little as $30.

Q: How does light therapy work?

A: Simply put, light therapy (phototherapy) affects brain chemicals linked to mood and sleep, easing SAD symptoms. It’s best to let the light indirectly touch the retina of your eyes – please do not look at the light directly. The light works by stimulating cells in the retina that connect to the hypothalamus – a part of the brain that helps control circadian rhythms. Activating the hypothalamus at a certain time every day (preferably in the morning) can restore a normal circadian rhythm and help banish seasonal symptoms.

Q: Are there any side effects to light therapy?

A: It’s a good idea to talk to a healthcare professional before beginning phototherapy. Although light treatment is relatively safe, it’s not a good idea for some people, including those with bipolar disorder. Above all, it’s important to remember that each individual is unique. Light therapy might not work for you, and that’s okay. Talk to your primary care provider – in nearly all cases, another personalized solution can be found.


To schedule an appointment with Dr. Woolf, please click here or call 801-475-3900.