The Health and Wellness Center is taking new measures to combat Michigan winter blues.The center recently purchased a sun lamp as a therapy for the treatment of Seasonal Affective Disorder, which affects students during the short, dark days of the winter months.
Brock Lutz, director of health services, said via email that the symptoms of SAD are basically the symptoms of depression — hopelessness, fatigue, physiological lethargy, sleeping a lot, difficulty focusing — but they manifest at certain times of the year, usually fall or winter, and remit in spring .
SAD is a type of depression that results from a change in environmental light, shorter and darker days, and not enough vitamin D. Many SAD patients are women, but it can also affect men. Research has shown that light therapy is an effective way to replenish vitamin D and alleviate such symptoms, Lutz said.
“So, our thought is: if light therapy can alleviate some of these symptoms, then let’s make it available,” Lutz said.
Nurse Carol Drews said that vitamin D is essential for the body. It can relieve stress, reset the sleep cycle if used early in the morning, and keep down cortisol levels, which contributes to weight gain. She said vitamin D releases the “feel good” chemical serotonin in the brain.
“It is serotonin in the brain that we get after a good run, a piece of chocolate, or being in love,” Drews said.
The center purchased one lamp because a number of students seem to suffer from SAD symptoms. Lutz has referred several students to the light therapy, and, if there is a positive response, they may purchase more for the health center or even for some of the dorms. “There may be students who suffer from SAD because the sun disappears a lot around here sometimes and for whom light therapy would be an effective treatment,” Lutz said.
He recommends the person sit in front of the lamp for 20 to 30 minutes every day, preferably during the morning hours, because soaking up the rays later in the day can interrupt the sleep cycle. The lamps can be bought for less than $150 on sites like Amazon, but should be purchased at 10,000 lux wattage, the recommended therapeutic dosage. Lamps under 10,000 lux have been shown not to alleviate SAD symptoms as effectively.
Drews said there is no cost to use the lamps, and the health center has wifi and coffee for students while they get their daily dose of vitamin D. Students can do homework, use electronics or use relaxation software while in front of the lamps. There is a sheet in the health center where students can sign up to use the lamp after a brief orientation.
Lutz said that although light therapy is the most common treatment for winter depression, other measures can be taken to fight SAD.
“Talking to someone about these symptoms is important to make sure it isn’t a more serious type of depression and to learn to deal with life when it gets challenging (as it usually will),” Lutz said.
Lutz also said exercising daily for 45 minutes and maintaining a healthy diet are key components of combating SAD.
“Most people would benefit from vitamin D in the winter,” Drews said. “This is a way to trick our bodies. This is the nonmedicinal way to get rid of winter blahs. It’s just good medicine.”