The Science of ‘Happy Lights’ for Seasonal Sadness

Special lights can improve mood in people who experience the “winter blues” or a more serious seasonal emotional dip.

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Posted in , Jan 25, 2019

How to treat SAD

The good news about late January is that each day is slightly longer than the one before it. It’s at this time of year that you might notice, as you leave your office or sit down to dinner, that the sky is a bit brighter than it was just the other evening. Spring is making its meandering way toward us.

But for many, the progress is just too slow. As the planet lingers far from the sun, the temperatures chill us to the core, and the turn of season seems eons away, seasonal mood issues—from mild “winter blues” to more serious Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)—can challenge our ability to abide on our positive path through wintertime.

This year, I finally purchased a light therapy lamp, sometimes sweetly called a “happy light.” This light box emits a specific type of light that mimics outdoor sunlight in a way that can coax the brain into feeling more alert, more energetic, and more able to access the habits that sustain your positive lifestyle.

A number of studies have examined the effectiveness of light therapy on seasonal depression, and many, like this 2009 study, concluded that just 20 minutes of exposure to a light therapy lamp can measurably improve mood. Exciting new research is expanding the possibilities of light therapy. A 2018 study showed it to be effective in improving the symptoms of depression among geriatric patients. 

There are some things to consider before trying light therapy for yourself. Shop around, as light boxes range from very affordable to quite expensive. Also, speaking with your doctor about it is always a good idea, especially if you have a mental health diagnosis. Additionally, Mayo Clinic recommends the following:

--Look for a box that emits at least 10,000 lux of light.

--Shop for a box that emits little or no UV light.

--Place the box somewhere you can see it without looking directly at it, 16-24 inches from your face.

--Try to use the light box first thing in the morning for 20-30 minutes (although it’s better to use it at a time that works for you than not at all).

Educated about the benefits of light therapy, and about the type of box that might be best for you, perhaps you might consider transforming, as William Shakespeare might have put it, “the winter of your discontent” into “glorious summer,” at least in your lighter, brighter mind.

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