Jet Lag And Light Boxes

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It used to be that jet lag was just another part of travel. We all expected to just deal with a disrupted sleep schedule and its side effects (irritability, poor concentration, general fogginess) at either end of a good trip. But recent research has shown that jet lag is not only an inconvenience, it’s a serious disruption of the body’s systems.

Jet lag or dysrhythmia occurs when you travel east to west across more than one time zone to reach your destination. Crossing time zones prevents the body from receiving regular signals about the time of day from events like sunrise and sunset. This disrupts the body clock and can affect more than fifty physiological and psychological rhythms. Studies have shown that jet lag can cause memory loss and potential shrinkage within the brain. It has a negative effect on blood pressure. It can leave you unable to sleep, unable to concentrate, and even depressed.

Without treatment, jet lag recovery takes at least a day per time zone at each end of your trip. It might even take up to three weeks to adjust and the older you are the worse the effects get. Fortunately, research demonstrates that the cure is as simple as the cause. By treating yourself with la light box in the morning (when traveling east) or in the evening (when traveling west) you can simulate the light events that you would otherwise miss and help keep your natural clock on track.

Other Things Light Therapy Helps

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As light therapy continues to be studied, researchers are finding that our sensitivity to the timing, intensity, and even the amount of light we receive is leading to an ever expanding number of medical uses for light therapy. Light therapy is the leading treatment for SAD, but scientists are exploring its use with everything from jet lag to skin disorders and even Parkinson’s disease.

For years we’ve known that sunlight improves acne. Now we know that it does that by triggering a chemical reaction in the bacteria that causes it, destroying them. Light therapy can trigger other chemical reactions, too. It is being used to break down the compounds that cause neonatal jaundice and to suppress the immune system while treating skin diseases like Psoriasis and Eczema.

More common uses for light therapy are related to sleep and depression. Knowing its effect on SAD, scientists have been working with light therapy to treat delayed sleep phase syndrome, advanced phase sleep syndrome, and non 24 hour sleep wake syndrome. These treatments are about the timing of the therapy and keep circadian rhythms accurate. Similar tests have been done with jet lag and shift work. Even Parkinson’s tremors can be reduced by the application of light. The therapy is proving to be a valuable treatment in many different medical arenas as scientists explore the natural effects of our body’s response to sunlight and disease. Shining a light on disease really does seem to work.

More Than Just SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder)

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Although light therapy is most often used to treat Seasonal Affective Disorder it can be an effective treatment for many types of issues. Light therapy is essentially a treatment of the body’s circadian rhythms, it works by triggering the brain’s chemical response to light. This stimulates serotonin levels that help the body to regulate its sleep schedules. It also alleviates stress and fatigue. Serotonin behaves similarly to medications like Prozac that are used to treat different types of depression. As a result, it may very well have an effect on non-seasonal depressions, some mental disorders, and circadian rhythm disorders as well as SAD.

Proof of this comes in studies that show patients who were hospitalized for depression were able to leave up to three days sooner when their rooms faced the direction of the morning sun. Other studies show that light therapy provided in low doses with the help of a physician can be one of the safest available treatments for bipolar disorders. It has also been tested for use in softening the effects of graveyard shifts and jet lag. All of these disorders are related to the same lack of serotonin that causes SAD. For that reason, they can all be treated by the application of specifically timed doses of light therapy which works to keep the body’s rhythms and the brain’s chemicals in balance.

The Chemistry Of SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder)

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The chemistry of Seasonal Affective Disorder seems to be directly related to the balance between two important chemicals found in the brain, melatonin and serotonin. Melatonin is the chemical that regulates sleep. It in turn is regulated by light. Within the brain, there direct connections between the retina, where light is received and measured, and the pineal gland, where melatonin is produced. The onset of its production is triggered by darkness, the body’s cue to rest. Once the body’s exposure to light increases, though, melatonin production decreases and the body converts its energy to serotonin production.

Serotonin is one of the chemicals responsible for the brain’s control over mood and appetite. High levels have been linked to positive feelings, relaxation and the ability to focus. When the brain’s production of melatonin switches over to serotonin it tells the body that it is time to be awake and alert.

Recent research suggests that serotonin levels are the key to SAD. While melatonin levels seem to remain the same in both those who experience SAD and those who don’t, serotonin levels have been show to be significantly lower in seasonally depressed patients. Scientists show that the proteins responsible for clearing the brain of excess serotonin are extremely active during periods of darkness, depressing serotonin levels to aid sleep. When the body and the brain are not exposed to enough light, as sometimes occurs during the winter months, serotonin levels stay low during the day as well.

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