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Infographic: Winter Blues Tech

Spring may be getting closer, but winter blues is lingering, so here’s how to take control with some help from technology.

One in five Americans are diagnosed with seasonal depression, and 5% suffer from a condition known as Seasonal Affective Disorder. Though doctors are still not entirely sure the cause of SAD, research suggests it may have to do with how light affects us. Varieties of light therapy have been shown to effectively treat symptoms in adults and children.

Color filter apps and built in settings on smartphones, while often ignored, filter out blue light from screens on a timer, dimming gently as the evening progresses to reduce eye strain and restlessness at bedtime Click To Tweet

To soak in some valuable sunshine, getting outside seems like the easiest solution. But with winter cold comes cloudy, short days; simply going outside isn’t always an option. Tech picks up the slack though by helping us establish simulated natural light that mimics patterns through a normal day. This means cool, bright light in the morning to help us wake up and warm tones in the evening to wind down. A study in 2018 had individuals spend 30 minutes of their morning wearing blue light-emitting goggles, participants reported feeling reduced sleepiness throughout the day compared to days without the goggles. Blue light works to wake us up by suppressing melatonin production – coincidentally, artificial lights like fluorescents have the same effect, making blue light less beneficial during the late afternoon and evening hours.

A study in 2018 had individuals spend 30 minutes of their morning wearing blue light-emitting goggles, and they reported feeling reduced sleepiness throughout the day Click To Tweet

The natural progression of the sun through the day eventually leads to warm tones. The brilliant oranges, yellows, and reds of the sunset are a good example. While beautiful, this regular shift in light is essential to our circadian rhythms and in those who are more sensitive to the changes of the seasons, the constant grey of the winter sky can be very disruptive. To combat this, blue-light blocking glasses come in handy, especially for those working in front of a computer all day. Bluwinx spectacles use clear, non-prescription transparent lenses that block out 59% of blue light and are designed for comfortable all day wear. Color filter apps and built in settings on smartphones, while often ignored, filter out blue light from screens on a timer, dimming gently as the evening progresses to reduce eye strain and restlessness at bedtime.

The infographic below from Best Health Degrees shows you what S.A.D. is all about and the ways that tech can help combat it Click To Tweet
Seasonal Depression Affects Millions
  • 1 in 5 American adults has diagnosed seasonal depression
  • 5% have seasonal affective disorder (SAD)
  • 14% have the winter blues 一 a milder seasonal depression
  • 1 in 4 American workers say January is their least happy month
  • 1 in 3 say winter has a negative impact on their mood at work
  • It’s not just adults ー SAD affects 2 million children in the US, age 9-17
Around one in five Americans are diagnosed with seasonal depression, and 5% suffer from a condition known as Seasonal Affective Disorder Click To Tweet
Intrinsically Photosensitive Retinal Ganglion Cells (ipRGCs) regulate:
  • Circadian rhythms
  • Pupil reflexes
  • Mood and energy level
  • SAD appears to be linked to the activation of ipRGCs, caused by either lack of daylight, or abnormal signalling
  • Less daylight in winter months makes ipRGCs fail to regulate circadian rhythms
Blue light works to wake us up by suppressing melatonin production - coincidentally, artificial lights like fluorescents have the same effect, making blue light less beneficial during the late afternoon and evening hours Click To Tweet
SAD sufferers experience:
  • Mood swings
  • Fatigue
  • Depression
  • Melatonin: The Sleep Hormone
  • Signals the body to calm down at night, enabling sleep
  • Melatonin regulates
  • Circadian rhythms
  • Body temperature
  • Blood pressure
Thanks to tech, varieties of light therapy have been shown to effectively treat symptoms in adults and children Click To Tweet
Tech To Hack Light Patterns

Establishing the right lighting for each time of day will improve your sleep, mood, and alertness

Morning: Bright, cool light will help you feel alert and boost your mood

In a 2018 study, spending 30 minutes wearing blue light emitting goggles in the early morning significantly reduced participants sleepiness

Try This ー Philips Wake-Up Light: Slowly shifts from dim red to bright yellow light, mimicking sunrise

Evening: Block blue light to increase melatonin and get better sleep

Harvard researchers found that after 6.5 hours of exposure to blue light, participants’ circadian rhythms shifted by an average of 3 hours

Try This ー Philips HUE Smart Bulbs: Easily programmed to shift to warmer tones in the evening

Night: Use dim red night lights, or skip the night light all together

Just 8 lux, 2x the brightness of a typical night light, is enough light to disrupt sleep 一 Red light has the least impact on sleep

Try This ー SomniLight Night Light: Dim red light helps you see in the dark, without disrupting sleep

Blue light suppresses melatonin levels, helping you feel more alert during the day, but making harder to fall asleep at night Click To Tweet
Tech To Block Blue Light

Blue-blocking glasses: Filtering or tinted lenses block out harmful blue light
For All-Day WearBluwinx: Clear lenses filter out 59% of blue light
For Evening UseUvex Skyper: Tinted lenses block 98% of blue light
Color filter apps: Automatically reduce screen brightness and shift to warmer colors at sunset
Night Shift ー Built-in feature for iOS and Mac
Twilight ー App for Android phones and tablets
F.lux ー App for Mac, Windows, and Linux

Tech to Get Some Sun

Bright Light Therapy*
Proven to treat SAD 一 Artificial sunlight triggers ipRGCs and resets your circadian rhythm

Choosing A Therapy Light
Light box: Widely available and affordable
Desk lamp: Easily blends into your decor
Visor: Allows patients to move freely during sessions

Look For These Features
2,500 – 10,000 lux: Low intensity lights require longer sessions
Short wavelength light: Cool tones, mimicking daylight, are best
UV filtering: Ultraviolet (UV) light can be damaging to your eyes

Apps For Your Winter Blues

WhatsMyM3
Track your moods for warning signs of SAD
Assesses your risk of depression with a research-based screening
Tracks scores over time, helping you know when to seek help

Fabulous
Get active with daily exercise and time outdoors
Created by Duke’s Behavioral Economics Lab
Helps users build toward healthy habits in small, easy steps

Pacifica
Focus on a healthy diet and lower stress
Tracks your mood, diet, caffeine intake, and sleep to identify patterns
Offers meditation, journal space, and other relaxation aides

TalkLife
Ask for the help and support of others
Online community provides the support of others with depression
Allows users to post anonymously, and chat with others

DMinder App
Location-based tracking of vitamin D from sun exposure
Notifications and forecasting of best time to go outside
Warnings help prevent sunburn based on skin type

Though doctors are still not entirely sure the cause of SAD, research suggests that it may have to do with how light affects us Click To Tweet

Winter Blues SAD Tech

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Alice Bonasio is a VR and Digital Transformation Consultant and Tech Trends’ Editor in Chief. She also regularly writes for Fast Company, Ars Technica, Quartz, Wired and others. You can follow @alicebonasio on Twitter, connect with her on LinkedIn or subscribe to her Inside VR/AR Newletter for all the latest curated immersive news.