Grey skies, torrential downpours and bitterly cold nights are enough to make any sun-loving Australian feel a bit gloomy, but for some people the dreary winter months are truly depressing.
The winter blues is a type of depression that occurs at the same time every year as the days get shorter and colder.
Caused by a lack of early morning light exposure disrupting the body’s natural sleep-wake cycle, which then leads to low moods, the winter blues affects an estimated one in 300 Australians, with the greatest prevalence in Victoria and Tasmania.
Fortunately, it’s not all doom and gloom thanks to a cutting-edge device invented by Flinders University sleep experts.
Re-Timer, which is worn like a pair of sunglasses, emits a soft, UV-free green light onto the eyes to stimulate the part of the brain responsible for regulating the 24-hour body clock, making it easier to fall asleep at night and wake in the morning.
“The human body clock likes to delay if given the chance, which means we have a natural tendency to stay up a bit later at night and get up later in the morning,” says Re-Timer inventor Professor Leon Lack, a world-renowned sleep psychologist.
“In summer, getting exposure to morning sunlight stops that natural late drift but in winter it’s harder to keep the late drift in check so people struggle to get out of bed in the morning. This disrupts their body clock and can cause bouts of depression, particularly in the morning,” Professor Lack said.
“But the Re-Timer mimics outdoor light, thereby regulating the body clock which in turn has a positive effect on brain chemicals linked to mood.”
Launched in 2012 following 25 years of sleep research at Flinders, the portable device can also counter jet lag, keep shift workers more alert and get teenagers out of bed by advancing or delaying the sleep-wake cycle.
Re-Timer CEO Ben Olsen said about 30 per cent of all Re-Timer sales are used to treat the winter blues.
He said the device is more effective and convenient than any other light therapy unit on the market because it emits a soft, UV-free light and, unlike conventional systems, it does not require the user to sit close to the unit for lengthy periods of time.
“Most light boxes and lamps emit a very bright light of up to 10,000 lux which is the amount of brightness required for the light to reach the user’s eyes from where they are sitting,” Mr Olsen said.
“But the Re-Timer emits just 506 lux on the highest setting, which is all that’s needed because the light is closer to the user’s eyes, and you only have to wear the glasses for 30 minutes as opposed to the required 60 minutes you have to sit in front of a traditional light device,” he said.
“It’s also a lot more convenient because being portable, you can wear it while making a coffee and getting ready for work – and at the same time treating the winter blues.”
Mr Olsen recommended wearing the glasses for 30 minutes per day immediately after waking in the morning to advance the body clock.
Click here for more information or to purchase the Re-Timer.