IF Insider No. 66 by Ellen Britt & Denise Wakeman
Love your content, but to me, the whole SAD lights conversation is dangerously unbalanced unless you talk about:
1. The need for darkness. Winter for most people means more artificial light, which means more cortisol and less melatonin. Artificial light at the wrong times induces depression in animal studies (they can’t do those kind of studies on humans for ethical reasons). Blue light, as is elevated in today’s energy-efficient bulbs, breaks down bilirubin... thus, people with SAD don’t experience a nocturnal rise in bilirubin because they are under artificial lights for more time than their biology can handle. Individual tolerance varies by 50-fold! Yes, a bright light can boost mood, but it’s unsustainable unless counterbalanced by darkness. For mental health patients in chronotherapy, 10-14 hours of uninterrupted darkness is prescribed. Yet most people don’t turn their lights out until about 7 or 8 hours before their alarm clocks go off. Add a burst of light with a nighttime bathroom break (a single flash of light can interrupt melatonin for the following 2-3 hours), and you end up with a 4-9 hour deficit in their melatonin production. I think time will tell that it is lack of darkness, not lack of light, contributing to the winter blues.
2. The specific ways lighting has changed in recent decades, particularly, the cutting out of infrared frequencies. If a light feels cold to the touch while it is on, it won’t have any healing frequencies. It’s just junk light cranking up cortisol without giving the electrons needed for cellular metabolism, thus acidifying the body and driving up inflammation. Short-term, this kind of light does boost serotonin and mood, but it’s like naked sugar, it does so at the expense of the body. Light with the infrared in it gives electrons at the same time as giving the blue light, closer to what it is like getting real sunlight. So, for SAD and other health conditions, infrared bulbs (available in the reptile section of any pet store) and old-fashioned incandescent lights offer much more, holistically, than anything that is cold to the touch while it is on.
While the research may prove bright lighting short-term, anecdotally, I have yet to hear of anyone being healed long-term, year after year in this way. I think going back to nature and embracing the long darkness and everything possible to support endogenous melatonin is a more sustainable bet (ie, high-tryptophan diet, nighttime fasting, dark nights, and yes, bright lights in the morning--the body needs serotonin to make melatonin, but preferably light from the sun because of the aforementioned infrared/electron issue).
Unfortunately, you can’t buy darkness or the sunrise/sunset or a particular eating schedule as a gift--a person has to choose them for themselves. It’s a conundrum, and I feel for you in wanting to help people who are going through it, especially someone close to you. I hope this comment is helpful and not overly pushy... SAD is one of my hot-button topics 🤪 I mean only to support and help ❤️