Down with Winter Darkness? We Got You, Sunshine.

Darkness is upon us. Each and every single passing day seems eerily shorter than the last–because they have been. Alas, your abysmal suspicions are in fact correct. There really is a lot less sunshine on our little part of the planet this time of year.

Here just below the 45th parallel, halfway between the Equator and the North Pole, Corvallis’ winter solstice and shortest day of the year was yesterday, Dec. 21. Between then and the summer solstice on June 20, 2017, day length will increase by six hours and 44 minutes. Hope–so they say, lies just over the horizon. Until then, electric lights are likely to be the source of a lot more of your daily photons in these dark times.

Artificially increasing your day length with timed lights or a dawn simulator can indeed be an effective strategy to trick your brain into thinking the line between night and day is actually more determinate than the sky outside would lead you to believe.

Seasonal symptoms are experienced by many in some form or another. Irritability, low energy, changes in sleep patterns—or even carbohydrate cravings, it can be argued—could all be leftover evolutionary traits where lethargy bordering on human hibernation may have served as an advantage in competitive energy conservation. But here in “civilized” society, these seasonal symptoms can cause serious health concerns.

Major depressive disorder with a seasonal pattern, or seasonal affective disorder (SAD), is also known as winter depression or winter blues. It does, though less commonly, occur at other times of year, and is associated with a broad spectrum of other health conditions. Those that have been diagnosed with a seasonally affected condition should speak with their physician about personalized treatments. Light therapies, for example, are used in a variety of ways to treat different types of mood disorders. Though perhaps less risky than medication, therapy lights, too, can cause adverse and undesirable side effects.

Oregon State University Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) offers resources for students who may be experiencing seasonal symptoms through the Mind Spa on campus. According to CAPS, “People in the Pacific Northwest can be particularly vulnerable to seasonal affective disorder, due to our northern latitude. It is the shorter days (not the grey winter sky) that is primarily responsible for the light deprivation that can trigger SAD.”

“Increasing your exposure to both natural and indoor light can be very effective in treating SAD. The Mind Spa includes a desktop light therapy unit. Students may also check out small, portable blue therapy lights or desktop lights like the one in the Mind Spa for two weeks at a time from CAPS. Therapy lights are also available at Student Health Services and the Valley Library circulation desk for use inside the library.”

Sunshine will return to our part of the valley someday, and with it longer, brighter days. Until then, though, maybe don’t feel so bad about switching on a few extra lights.

By Matthew Hunt

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