Monday, August 15, 2011

Let there be Light (Step 4 of 6)

Being that I was raised in Alaska, I always knew the importance of light for one's mental health.  Growing up I always heard about Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, but never once contributed it to my diagnoses of clinical depression.  Did you know that America is less happy and more sluggish in the winter and that the rate of clinical depression goes up?  "An estimated 20% of the population battles the "winter blues", with at least some clinically significant depressive symptoms between November and March" (140). Considering that most Americans work 8-10 hours a day, finding the time to be outside can be a struggle.  Our ancestors spent the majority of the day outside, farming, hunting, gathering, playing, yet I am barely getting an hour a day, and the few minutes I do get outside, it's usually overcast and raining.
Why is light so important?  Bright light stimulates the brain's production of serotonin.  It's the neurotransmitter that helps with stress, depression, well being and social activity.  A recent study also showed that people under the influence of bright light are less likely to argue or fight with others (138).  I find this fascinating.  So fascinating that I'm sorta testing that study.  Lately I feel very irritable and on edge with people, arguing a lot.  (Did I say lately? Okay, so more like off and on my entire life!)  I feel like I constantly have that crows feet scowl, and "I just want to scream and push you off a cliff you are driving me so nuts" attitude.  I told this to my doctor and she of course prescribed me a mood stabilizer.  Go figure, another drug.  Did she once ask me, "are you getting enough light, exercising, sleep?"  No.  I haven't taken the prescription yet.  I am going to use the light first (as well as the other 5 steps) and see if my irritability goes down.
Another benefit from natural light is that it helps with our "body clock", our chronometer, and when our body clock gets out of sync, "hormones get out of whack, sleep grows erratic, and energy ebbs and flows at all the wrong times."  This alone cane trigger a full blown episode of depression.  No bueno.
So why can't we just sit in front of a light bulb?  For many reasons.  "Natural light from a sunny day is over a hundred times brighter than typical indoor lighting" (136).  And because our brain has special light receptors that respond only to natural light, most people need to get 15-30 minutes of morning sunshine a day (139).  But what happens if you live in the Tongass National Rain Forrest where it is overcast more days out of the year than it is sunny?  Dr. Ilardi discusses brightness in lux.  Indoor lighting gives out about 100 lux of brightness, whereas, outdoor lighting on a sunny day can give out 10,000 to 100,000 lux.  You can purchase light boxes that give out 10,000 lux, sit in front of it every morning as you eat your breakfast and read your paper and get your light fix in that way.  That's my plan at least.  I ordered my light box and plan on doing 30 minutes in the morning while I eat breakfast, blog, email etc.  I also might, on sunny mornings, incorporate step 3, exercise, with getting my light in by walking 30 minutes in the morning outside. (I did this today even though it was overcast, and it felt great, though I am a bit sleepy right now.)  If you decide to buy a light box in the near future, I advise you to read the book.  He gives many suggestions depending on your sleep pattern, eye color and skin tone, as well as, light box tips, i.e., do not look directly into the light box.
But what about vitamin D from the sunshine?  We all know Vitamin D is important, and if one becomes deficient, it can cause a handful of health problems.  Rickets, multiple sclerosis, colon cancer, Crohn's disease, and depression are just a few diseases that are linked to vitamin D deficiencies. Some of us our fortunate to live in sunny places, where you can sit outside at a cafe, and get your 30 minutes of vitamin D from the sunshine, while sipping a coffee and eating your lunch.  However, here in southeast Alaska, that is usually not an option.  That's what the supplement of vitamin D is for.  Dr. Ilardi recommends 2000 IU of D3 each day, but up to 4,000 IU.  (I'm currently taking 3,200 IU.)  Always consult your doctor, and again, if you are still reading this blog and are interested on boosting your mood, buy the book and follow along.  He gives so much more amazing information on the benefits of light and vitamin D.
2 more steps to go!

No comments: