What Is Bright Light Therapy?
Over the last few years, I have become more aware of how the sunlight affects my mood. In the summer I can go to sleep at midnight and be up at 6am with no problem; feeling like I have all the energy in the world, even with only 5-6 hours of sleep. In the winter I struggle just to get myself out of bed in time for work. Days feel long and exhausting. Many times I can’t seem to find the motivation or the energy to do anything. I noticed this while living in New England in my late 20’s. The winter months seemed to go on for years, with a sunny day once a week at best. It came to the point where I welcomed snow and actually wished for it, just because it meant the little bit of sun we might get afterwards would reflect off the snow, making that day a bit brighter.
My pilates instructor at the time asked if I had seasonal affective disorder and recommended a light lamp to help me combat the symptoms. So I ordered one online and began to use it daily. Immediately, I noticed a difference after using it 30 minutes each morning. I would use it religiously when drinking my morning coffee, eating breakfast, prepping for work, or reading. Once I moved to Delaware I stopped using it because I noticed a significant difference in the amount of sunlight compared to New England during the winter months. However, I have brought it back out recently with all the gloomy clouds and rain. I know we are now in Spring, but it still affects me on some days.
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a form of depression related to the time of year, generally starting in the fall and lasting through the winter. Sometimes it is referred to as the “winter blues”. Symptoms include fatigue, sleeping more, social withdrawal, a heaviness in the limbs, eating more, and craving high carbohydrate foods. There is also a form of SAD that affects people in the spring and summer months. Symptoms for this include insomnia, loss of appetite, and weight gain. My symptoms are in the fall and winter, sometimes trickling into the spring depending on the weather.
Phototherapy, also known as bright light therapy or light therapy, has been proven to be an affective treatment in SAD. It is sometimes used in combination with medications and psychotherapy, but is often times used alone. You might be wondering why you need a specific light lamp to help your mood when you have lights all over your house. The light in your home is not strong enough to create the same effects of these light lamps. The light lamps should be at least 10,000 lux in order to provide therapeutic results. Lighting in your home and the amount of sunlight on a cloudy day you are both roughly 1,000 lux. Throughout the day you may receive up to 25,000 lux without direct sunlight, and with direct sunlight you get up to 100,000 lux. A common concern is the damage from the UV lights of these small flourescent lamps, but many now have a filter to limit the amount of UV rays emitted during use.
The lamp I have is a small table top one, about 4”x4”, but they come in all sizes. There are larger table top ones and even floor lamps. They range in price on Amazon for $11.99 to $230.00. I highly recommend trying it out - it can’t hurt.