Each of us has an internal body clock which controls sleep-awake cycles in the brain. We are also keenly attuned to the rhythms of the planet. This biological clock is located ‘in the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) in the hormone control center of the brain, the hypothalamus. When light enters the eye, it activates this part of the brain and reduces production of the sleep hormone (melatonin) produced in the pineal gland of the brain. The light also acts to the release of a variety of other hormones and affects body temperature,” according to Robert J. Hedaya MD DFAPA, ‘Light Matters and Your Mental Health’ in Health Matters by Psychology Today.
There are studies on the type of light, intensity of light, wavelengths, duration, timing and placement in therapy for SAD, seasonal affective disorder- a mood disorder, dementia, and other conditions. Light is used to correct sleep disorders and as an aid to depression. It can also help with orientation and cognitive functioning. Dr. Hedaya says, ‘Four neurotransmitters (dopamine, norepinephrine, glutamate, and GABA) have roles in controlling the biological clock. Importantly, melatonin cannot be produced if thyroid hormone levels are not adequate.’
Susan Donaldson James reported in an ABC news story that the condition, seasonal affective disorder or SAD ‘affects 62 million Americans, according to Michael Terman, director of the Center for Light Treatment and Biological Rhythms at Columbus University and a leader in the field. About 5 percent of the population experiences the most severe symptoms of SAD-depression and hopelessness-while another 15 percent have the so-called ‘winter blues’ or ‘winter doldrums.’ See: http://abcnews.go.com/Health/light-therapy-helps-winter-blues-sad-swedish-bus/story?id=
To treat the condition, patients are exposed to 30 minutes of 10,000 lux diffused, white fluorescent light early in the morning. Its known that ‘Bright daylight supports circadian rhythms, enhances mood, promotes neurological health, and affects alertness; increasing the use of natural light and reducing dependence on electric lighting can also significantly improve mental health and function,” according to an article on Mental Health & Function – ‘A Literature Review in Green Cities: Good Health’ by K.L. Wolf and K. Flora, 2010.
These authors report (through a review of the latest literature on mental health and the experience of nature) how important green spaces, urban nature, and outdoor activities are, “Contact with nature helps children to develop cognitive, emotional, and behavioral connections to nearby social and biophysical environments and is important for encouraging imagination and creativity, cognitive and intellectual development, and social relationships. Symptoms of ADD in children can be reduced through activity in green settings, thus ‘green time’ can act as an effective supplement to traditional medicinal and behavioral treatments.” (Wolf & Flora, ibid)
Pomegranate teens will be enjoying sno-cones in the courtyard, volleyball & corn hole, assorted games, and other recreational outings. There’s a great view of the grounds from the cool of the art therapy room when the dog days of summer make indoors a whole lot more comfortable!
You can read more about Seasonal Affective Disorder on the NAMI website at: http://www.nami.org/PrinterTemplate.cfm?Template=/ContentManagement/HTMLDispla
The National Institute of Mental Health has a great article and links to more information at URL http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/seasonalaffectivedisorder.html
One of their links is specifically for teen mental health: http://kidshealth.org/teen/your_mind/mental_health/sad.html%5D
Or read about Mental Health & Function and the importance of the natural environment in encouraging learning, memory, and cognitive respite in Part II of this article or, at: http://depts.washington.edu/hhwb/Thm_Mental.html
[Photo Image is from AndrewKazmierski/Dreamstime 16592517]