• Sweden's news in English

SAD: You can beat the winter blues

Jennifer Heape · 24 Oct 2008, 17:15

Published: 24 Oct 2008 17:15 GMT+02:00

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

With the bleak Swedish winter looming and the end of Daylight Saving Time arriving on October 26th, the sunny days of summer are long gone.

While most people see the dull days of winter as just a dreary dampener of spirits, for some the darker months are a much more serious issue.

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a psychological disorder characterized by depression, tiredness, decreased motivation, a tendency to sleep excessively and a craving for carbs and sweets.

In severe cases, sufferers may experience intense anxiety and irritability, and the condition can even lead to suicidal tendencies.

As Jerker Hetta, Professor in Psychiatry at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm explains, SAD is a serious issue in Sweden:

"I would expect that about 8-10 percent of the Swedish population do experience some form of SAD, with more extreme cases constituting 4-5 percent. Although these figures are complicated by the fact that some people displaying depressive symptoms over the winter months may already have pre-existing psychiatric problems."

While there is no conclusive answer for what causes SAD, the symptomatic cycle of the condition is typically related to seasonal changes in the amount of available sunlight.

This may be due to the role circadian rhythms play in the regulation of the hormone melatonin in our bodies.

The suprachiasmatic nuclei (SCN), which can be thought of in terms of the body's 'master clock', responds to changing light levels during the course of the day. The SCN, which is located in the hypothalamus in the brain, transmits information taken from the retina to the pineal gland.

This small cerebral gland regulates and secretes the hormone melatonin. Melatonin is thought to control the body’s response to sleep or wakefulness, with levels of the hormone being highest just before bedtime.

Sufferers of SAD have been reported to have abnormally high levels of melatonin during the dark winter months.

And Sweden does have more than its fair share of dusky days. The most northerly regions of the country experience the Arctic phenomena of polar nights, where the land is thrown into darkness for weeks at a time.

Although this is the extreme hand of the Swedish winter, the more southerly cities of Stockholm and Gothenburg can expect low light levels and short days for what Swedes refer to as “the winter half” of the year.

The dreariness of Sweden's winters compared to its south European neighbours was documented as long ago as the 6th century. Roman chronicler Jordanes described the inhabitants of northern Sweden and Norway in his text Getica, written in Constantinople in AD 551.

According to Jordanes, the inhabitants of the region "are said to have continual light in midsummer for forty days and nights, and who likewise have no clear light in the winter season... By reason of this alteration of sorrow and joy, they are like no other race in their sufferings and blessings."

For those SAD sufferers who do indeed find it a sorrow to bear the long winter months in Sweden, phototherapy may be a ray of hope. Better known as light therapy, phototherapy has been used in Sweden for years as a means of combating SAD.

Phototherapy is most commonly administered through the use of a light box which emits a measured amount of balanced spectrum light from fluorescent tubes.

"Clinically, patients do benefit from light exposure and light does indeed have certain biological benefits" says Hetta.

However, as the professor explains, there is no conclusive medical proof for the effectiveness of phototherapy.

"It has not been properly demonstrated as to how best light therapy should be delivered... Scientifically we don't really know how effective light therapy is."

Preliminary studies have suggested that a daily 'dose' of 30 to 60 minutes in front of a light box affects the production of melatonin, thereby regulating the circadian and seasonal rhythms of the SAD sufferer.

Light boxes can be easily purchased from the internet for home use, but there are other options. The Iglo Lightcafé, opened in Stockholm in 2004 by Martin Sylwan, is Sweden's and possibly the world's, first light cafe.

Rather than sitting next to a light box, the idea of the Lightcafé is that the whole room is illuminated with constant, unshadowed rays. On entering the cafe, visitors don white robes and are able to buy food and drink or even take breakfast.

Story continues below…

"I think it's a great way to treat SAD," says Sylwan. "From the people I've spoken to, it really helps."

Sylwan explains what made him start up the Lightcafé: "When I personally suffered from depression, light therapy was prescribed by my doctor. The treatment was in the psychiatric ward of a hospital and although I found the treatment helpful, I really didn't like going there."

Finding medical institutions "in no way a positive experience", Sylwan decided to create a more relaxing environment for light therapy.

"Many working environments are not properly lit and there is not enough natural light from windows during the dark season. This makes people suffer, and for some it can be a real handicap," he says.

If the thought of light therapy doesn't appeal, then Hetta offers some common sense advice to those who feel the onset of the blues with the darkening days:

"Lifestyle choices definitely influence your susceptibility to SAD. Try to spend lots of time outdoors, particularly on bright days and take light exercise like walking."

Jennifer Heape (jennifer.heape@thelocal.se)

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Today's headlines
Refugee crisis
Asylum requests in Sweden down by 70 percent
Sweden's migration minister Morgan Johansson. Photo: Christine Olsson/TT

Sweden received 70 percent fewer requests for asylum in the period between January and September 2016 than it did during the same time last year, the country’s justice and migration minister Morgan Johansson has revealed.

The unique story of Stockholm's floating libraries
The Stockholm archipelago book boat. Photo: Roger Hill.

Writer Roger Hill details his journeys on the boats that carry books over Stockholm's waterways and to its most remote places.

Refugee crisis
Second Stockholm asylum centre fire in a week
The new incident follows a similar fire in Fagersjö last week (pictured). Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT

Police suspect arson in the blaze, as well as a similar incident which occurred last Sunday.

More misery for Ericsson as losses pile up
Ericsson interim CEO Jan Frykhammar presenting its third quarter results. Photo: Claudio Bresciani/TT

The bad news just keeps coming from the Swedish telecoms giant.

Facebook 'sorry' for removing Swedish cancer video
A computer displaying Facebook's landing page. Photo: Christine Olsson/TT

The social media giant had censored a video explaining how women should check for suspicious lumps in their breasts.

Watch this amazing footage of Sweden’s landscapes
A still from the aerial footage of Sweden. Photo: Nate Summer-Cook

The spectacular drone footage captures both Sweden's south and the opposite extreme, thousands of kilometres north.

Sweden could be allowed to keep border controls: EU
Police ID checks at Hyllie station in southern Sweden. Photo: Stig-Åke Jönsson/TT

Sweden could be allowed to keep ID controls on its border with Denmark beyond the current end date of November, following discussions among EU leaders in Brussels last night.

Why women in Sweden will work for free by November
File photo of a woman working in a Swedish office. Photo: Anders Willund/TT

A new study into the gender pay gap suggests Sweden still has some work to do.

Look familiar? Meet your jawbone's ancestor
Thank God for evolution, eh?

There's something fishy about the human jawbone – it has its origins in the placodermi, a jowly species of fish that lived 400 million years ago, Swedish and Chinese researchers say.

Isis claims unremarked arson attack in Malmö
The arson attack took place on Norra Grängesbergsgatan in Malmö. File photo: Emil Langvad/TT

An arson attack in Malmö that caused only minor damage and was barely reported in the media has been claimed by terror group Isis.

Sponsored Article
This is Malmö: Football capital of Sweden
Fury at plans that 'threaten the IB's survival' in Sweden
Sponsored Article
Where is the Swedish music industry heading?
Here's where it could snow in central Sweden this weekend
Analysis & Opinion
Are we just going to let half the country die?
Blog updates

6 October

10 useful hjälpverb (The Swedish Teacher) »

"Hej! I think the so-called “hjalpverb” (auxiliary verbs in English) are a good way to get…" READ »


8 July

Editor’s blog, July 8th (The Local Sweden) »

"Hej readers, It has, as always, been a bizarre, serious and hilarious week in Sweden. You…" READ »

Sponsored Article
7 reasons you should join Sweden's 'a-kassa'
Angry elk chases Swede up a lamp post
Sponsored Article
Why you should 'grab a chair' on Stockholm's tech scene
The Local Voices
'Alienation in Sweden feels better: I find myself a stranger among scores of aliens'
People-watching: October 20th
The Local Voices
A layover at Qatar airport brought this Swedish-Kenyan couple together - now they're heading for marriage
Sponsored Article
Stockholm: creating solutions to global challenges
Swede punches clown that scared his grandmother
Sponsored Article
Swedish for programmers: 'It changed my life'
Fans throw flares and enter pitch in Swedish football riot
Could Swedish blood test solve 'Making a Murderer'?
Sponsored Article
Top 7 tips to help you learn Swedish
Property of the week: Linnéstaden, Gothenburg
Sponsored Article
How to vote absentee from abroad in the US elections
Swedish school to build gender neutral changing room
People-watching: October 14th-16th
Sponsored Article
'There was no future for me in Turkey'
Man in Sweden assaulted by clowns with broken bottle
Sponsored Article
‘Extremism can't be defeated on the battlefield alone’
Nobel Prize 2016: Literature
Sponsored Article
Stockholm: creating solutions to global challenges
Watch the man who discovered Bob Dylan react to his Nobel Prize win
Sponsored Article
Why you should 'grab a chair' on Stockholm's tech scene
Record numbers emigrating from Sweden
Sponsored Article
'There was no future for me in Turkey'
People-watching: October 12th
Sponsored Article
Where is the Swedish music industry heading?
The Local Voices
'Swedish startups should embrace newcomers' talents - there's nothing to fear'
Sponsored Article
Last chance to vote absentee in the US elections
How far right are the Sweden Democrats?
Property of the week: Triangeln, Malmö
Sweden unveils Europe's first elk hut
People-watching: October 7th-9th
The Local Voices
Syria's White Helmets: The Nobel Peace Prize would have meant a lot, but pulling a child from rubble is the greatest reward
Missing rune stone turns up in Sweden
Nobel Prize 2016: Chemistry
jobs available