Seasonal Affective Disorder: Is Tanning a Good Idea?
In the midst of the winter seasonal affective disorder period--generally October to March--you may be tempted to take drastic measures, such as getting UV rays from a tanning bed or booth.
Some studies suggest that tanning can improve mood when you're struggling with SAD. However, Dr. Michael Terman, director for Light Treatment and Biological Rhythms at New York-Presbyterian Hospital in Manhattan, warns that the risks of skin cancer and eye damage override any benefit to seasonal affective disorder.
Terman points out that the benefit of light therapy for seasonal affective disorder is through the eyes, not the skin. Also, the type of light used in light therapy for SAD is completely different to the light used in artificial tanning.
Light therapy is currently considered the most effective treatment for seasonal affective disorder and "winter blues," a milder form of SAD. It was first introduced in the 1980s, and has been refined over the past few decades. For instance, a newer generation of the light therapy box is the dawn simulator.
According to researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, dawn simulation aims to simulate early dawn through artificial light, and alleviate SAD symptoms which are triggered by fewer hours of bright daylight during the winter.
Light therapy boxes emit soft white light, but as the Mayo Clinic explains, different boxes use different parts of the light spectrum and intensities. An ideal box to treat SAD should emit 10,000 lux and limit UV exposure. Outdoor light on clear sunny days can reach up to 100,000 lux.
On the other hand, some tanning beds or booths can emit up to 12 times the amount of UV light that comes from the sun. Plus, if you're wearing goggles to protect your eyes during artificial tanning, you're reducing any benefits you might get. Is it really worth it when there are better natural treatments for SAD?
The Safer Way to Battle SAD this Winter
So what's the alternative to roasting yourself in a tanning bed or booth to relieve SAD symptoms? Some natural remedies include:
- going to bed the same time every night;
- eating foods such as nuts and seeds to increase neurotransmitters that boost mood;
- exercising 30 minutes most days of the week;
- taking a melatonin supplement.
But the therapy that tops the list is light therapy. Research shows that about 75 to 80 percent of people who use it experience improvement in their SAD symptoms within a week. If you haven't already invested in a 10,000 lux light therapy box specifically for treating SAD, it's time.
The American Association of Family Physicians recommends starting with a daily 15-minute session. If your SAD symptoms don't improve, increase therapy to 30 to 45 minutes, or two daily sessions. Whatever you do, don't give in to the tanning booth.
- Don't use light therapy if you're taking St. John's Wort, which increases photosensitivity.
- Don't look directly into the light; the light should shine down from above your eyes.
- Don't use light therapy boxes with blue light. Terman and other health professionals indicate that there's no research showing these boxes work. Plus, this type of light is harsher on your eyes.
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