The Amount of Sun People Receive Affects Their Mood


A young woman lies asleep on a cold, overcast winter
morning. At 4 A.M., a faint incandescence radiates from a
light bulb placed near her bed. The light gradually gains
intensity and covers until 6 A.M., when the woman awakes.
She had just experienced a simulated dawn of a new day.
After being treated with this for several days, the woman's
annual winter depression slowly goes away. Does this mean
that the less sun you get the worse you feel, or perhaps
the more you get the better your mood? It is very possible
that you may feel this way as millions of people worldwide
have experienced it first-hand. This phenomena is still
sort of a mystery as many researchers don't completely
understand why this happens. "It may be that certain
individuals have inherited vulnerability that causes them
to develop depression in the absence of exposure to
sufficient environmental light"1. Frederick A. Cook, the
arctic explorer, provided a vivid description of the
effects of prolonged darkness on the human psyche: "The
curtain of blackness which has overfallen the outer world
has also descended upon the inner world of our souls," Cook
wrote in his journal on May 16, 1898, "Around our tables .
. . . men are sitting about sad and dejected lost in dreams
of melancholy. For brief moments some try to break the
spell by jokes, told perhaps for the 50th time. Others
grind out a cheerful philosophy; but all efforts to infuse
bright hopes fail."2 Some believe that light affects the
body's ability to make serotonin, a neurotransmitter that
helps induce feelings of calm and well being. The eye's
sensitivity may also play a part in sun/mood relations. A
study was done to a group of people in the winter and
summer. In the winter the many individuals experienced much
more difficulty seeing dim light after sitting in the dark
for a while.3 Another study done in Vancouver shows that
electrical activity in the retinas when a bright light is
shone, is significantly less in winter4.
As much as 5% of Americans suffer from Seasonal Affective
disorder, also known as SAD5. SAD is an illness in which
the sufferers feel depressed, feel lethargic, and they
overeat . There is no known cause for this widespread
illness. Many researchers of SAD are speculating on the
idea that SAD patients might have seasonal variations in
their melatonin secretions. A study of melatonin patterns
in SAD sufferers was done to determine if melatonin was a
factor in the disorder. Since mostly women are affected by
SAD, researchers used healthy women as the control. The
researchers who found that the significant difference in
winter and summer pacemaking that occurred in SAD patients
also saw similar patterns in the healthy women. Other
studies show that a SAD sufferer's eye usually does not
take in as much sunlight in the winter as a normal person,
which may exaggerate the depression and other symptoms.6
Most SAD patients treated with light therapy for a few
weeks usually lose the depression. SAD patients that tended
to eat more than one portion of sweet things (such as
chocolate, cake, or ice cream) per day usually found
temporary relief from their illness.7 Swiss scientists
believe that the sweet foods seems to "trigger" the release
of the same mood-altering substances that light triggers.
Nevertheless, light -- or lack thereof -- can really get
under our skin. For instance, "Rapid changes in the day
length greatly modify the daily cycle of sleep and
melatonin secretion," report researchers led by
psychiatrist Thomas A. Wehr of the National Institute of
Mental Health, ". . . brain mechanisms that detect and
respond to seasonal changes in day length may have been
conserved in the course of human evolution."8 The findings
with the sun's affect on humans matched those already
observed in rats. Many of us have not yet realized what an
important factor light is in our daily life. "Light is a
complex stimulus that has been inadequately specified,
given the intense clinical experimentation of the last five
years."9 Research with these results easily prove that the
sun and light really do alter our mood, and have a great
influence on our lives.


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