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App monitoring light exposure can help avoid winter blues

7 February 2014

You can help the researchers by collecting light exposure data using your smartphone.

Is it possible to use a mobile app to monitor mood and light exposure, and thereby avoid seasonal affective disorders (SAD) such as depression? This is what a research group at Uppsala University is trying to find out. A mobile app, SADHealth, has been developed and the researchers now need additional user data to analyze the effects of the information registered by the app.

People’s moods and activities are heavily affected by their environment, which change significantly throughout the year. Natural light exposure synchronizes daily rhythms in physiology, sleep, muscle and cardiovascular function, and elevates alertness, cognitive performance and mood. In extreme cases, these symptoms progress into Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Although phototherapy and vitamin supplements can be used to ameliorate some of the effects, a tool that helps identify and manage these changes has the potential to improve the health and well-being of many people.       

A research group at Uppsala University has developed a mobile sensing and personalized guidance application to identify and manage the effects of limited light exposure. The initial results show that light sensors on a mobile phone can provide adequate and high quality light measurements.

The next step is now to perform a full study on a varied set of participants that are willing to collect data over the course of a whole winter. The project will bring together research in mobile and network science with work in the social, biological and behavioral science-field to examine the various ways in which alterations on light impact health, well-being and social behavior. The goal is to develop an intelligent system that recognizes the psychological, behavioral, social and contextual characteristics of limited light exposure.

“We are going to conduct a large longitudinal real-world sensing study, including analysis of multidimensional data from Twitter and Facebook. We now need as many users as possible to download the app, so that we receive a sufficiently large data sample for analysis”, says Edith Ngai, associated professor at the department of Information Technology at Uppsala University.

The researchers believe that the combination of online and offline data will provide comprehensive information in order to create a powerful new personalized tool for managing health and well-being. The final results from the study are expected in late 2015

About SADHealth

SADHealth is a mobile application available for Android mobile phones and is available for free in Google Play stores. It records light, physical activity, location and mood data, and answers questions such as: How much light are you getting? How much exercise have you had in the past week? What can I do to prevent/minimizethe effects of the Winter Blues/SAD? How has my mood been this week, and has it improved?