Samantha Jorgenson* despises rooms where all of the curtains are closed. With four other college roommates, it’s inevitable that compromises must be made. So, here are the ground rules: When daylight is upon their Cheney apartment, the curtains are open, but as dusk settles, the curtains are closed.
This emphatic obsession with the curtains may be one clue to Samantha’s fascination with the sun, and hatred of the winter.
“When there is no sunshine and it’s a yucky day I get sad,” Jorgenson said.
Every morning when Samantha rises, the first thing she does is open all the curtains and turn on all the lights. What is it about light that Samantha is drawn to, and is it normal?
According to Peter Endyke, a clinical psychologist practicing in Spokane, humans need the sun to maintain chemical balance. “Your endocrine system is affected by light,” said Endyke.
Light causes the brain to release excitatory neurotransmitters, which stimulate the brain to be alert and awake. When your eyelids are open, alpha waves are produced, which is the opposite of what the brain produces when asleep.
Light also affects transmitters in the brain that “register pleasure and well-being,” said Endyke. The amount of light one receives boosts their seratonin levels, which release feelings of happiness and contentment.
For Samantha, the sun dramatically affects her mood. “When there’s no sun, it’s easy to be more down and less peppy. It’s just gloomier,” said Jorgenson. Her attitude clearly changes as summer turns to fall and fall turns to winter.
“Winter is a dark time. It’s bleak, and it’s cold. Like, I just think dark, some people think ‘oh skating,’ I just think its dark,” said Jorgenson.
So, now we know the correlation between light and its affect on us, but why are Samantha and so many others strongly influenced by light and dark?
Samantha may be among 10 million other Americans who suffer from the “winter blues,” or Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). SAD usually occurs between September and April, but particularly during December, January and February. SAD is caused by a biochemical imbalance in the hypothalamus due to the shortening of daylight hours and lack of sunlight in the winter.
The severity of this disorder can vary, from mild to extreme, and Samantha may have a milder form called Subsyndromal SAD or “winter blues.” Others with stronger cases of SAD have a disabling illness, preventing them from functioning normally without continuous medical treatment.
Symptoms of the Seasonal Affective Disorder include: sleep problems, fatigue, overeating, depression, social problems, anxiety, loss of libido, and mood changes.
One major symptom that marks Samantha is her obvious change in mood from summer to winter.
“It’s a lot easier to get moody and it’s just not a happy time,” said Jorgenson.
But, as spring rolls around and clocks call for her to “spring forward,” Samantha gets very excited.
“As spring gets closer I get happier and happier and happier. When you set the clock forward an hour, it’s a great day,” said Jorgenson.
Samantha’s symptoms are mild, and consistent treatment is not required. Others who have severe forms of SAD can utilize several treatments. Endyke finds that seratonin levels can be raised, “artificially with medicine or by engaging in planned pleasurable activities, by working on the way that you think, or by light therapy.”
Samantha’s own remedy requires moving.
“I’m moving to Arizona, where its sun-shinny and warm weather,” said Jorgenson. “I think I’ll be a snowbird when I get older. I’ll go south.”
*Names have been changed to protect identity