As the days shorten in the Northern Hemisphere, the lack of strong daylight can affect mood for many people. While we don’t depend on sunshine in the same way that plants do for survival, we seem to do best as humans when we receive light each day. When we don’t get it, some of us seem to shrug it off, but some of us can find brain chemistry so altered that we experience seasonal depression.
The usual caveats about depression apply here: speak with a doctor, there is no one size fits all approach, some cases of depression can be resolved with therapy, others with diet and exercise, and others with medication, etc. But in this month’s article, we’ll discuss light therapy.
People who find their mood sinking as the daylight fades have reported good results from taking in more strong white light every day. The light triggers increased levels of serotonin, a hormone that makes us feel alert and happy, and regulates melatonin, a hormone that makes us feel sleepy. It helps to reset our circadian rhythms (the body’s biological clock).
A number of options have come forward to the market to meet the demand from people who are beginning to recognize how much light affects their sense of well-being. Litebook is among the best known and has been sold from health food stores since soon after it went into business in 1999. Lumie, in the UK, has created a wide range of light products to support health, from basic lamps to an alarm clock that gradually simulates the increase of light from a sunrise and adds aromatherapy. Northern Light has a visor that attaches under a ballcap to shine light back on the face, allowing the wearer to go wherever they want while receiving light.
If you need a less expensive option, (many light therapy devices start around the $100 mark), you can build your own lightbox. The cheapest option is simply to wire together some four-foot full-spectrum fluorescent tube lights. But you can also use a cardboard or plywood box or plastic tote, cut it full of holes and wire together a large number of compact full-spectrum light bulbs. You can find tutorials at places such as Lifehacker or Livestrong. Be aware that some caution about using non-medical lights, particularly full spectrum, as they may contain a few UVA or UVB rays which could damage the eyes if used in quantity at close range. But the risk seems to be quite low. Some also say that full spectrum is not needed – that a cool, bright light is enough. You can experiment for yourself and see what works for you. Whatever you choose, it seems the key is diligence in spending time every day with the light shining on you.