Dr. Patty Quinlisk, medical director of the Iowa Department of Public Health, says Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, is brought on by a lack of exposure to sunlight and it can make people feel moody and lethargic.
“Certainly, there are going to be some people who might be more prone to getting this than others,” Dr. Quinlisk says. “For example, people who already struggle with depression might be more susceptible.”
This is the shortest day of the year and while the days will be getting longer for the next several months, Quinlisk says Iowans are more at risk for SAD than people living in Florida.
Quinlisk says, “It can hit you anywhere, but the farther north you go, the less and less sunlight you have during the day in the wintertime, the more likely you are to have people get this.”
Some SAD sufferers may be helped by counseling while others might benefit from prescribed medication. For many though, special full-spectrum lamps or “light boxes” can literally brighten the day through what’s called light therapy or phototherapy.
Quinlisk says other possible solutions focus on lifestyle.
“Things as simple as during the day, going out and taking a walk at lunchtime, sitting closer to a window during the day at work or when you’re at home,” she says. “Exercise helps us, and eating a good diet.”
State health officials don’t track SAD case numbers within Iowa, but studies find it impacts between 10 and 20% of all Americans.
While she doesn’t suffer from SAD, Quinlisk says she uses a clock equipped with a full-spectrum light at her bedside as she prefers not to be startled awake every morning by an alarm clock.
“I like it because you set the light so it gradually comes on and you wake up naturally, as if the sun were rising, rather than, all of the sudden at 6 o’clock, ‘Beep! Beep! Beep!'” she says. “I find that irritating. You can find those lamps all over the place. There’s different kinds and I’ve used them for years.”
As an added benefit, when she reads by the lamp’s light at night, it provides plenty of artificial sunshine.