For some of us the winter months can bring a lot of darkness as the sun gets hidden away for a large portion of the day. In the United Kingdom where I live, during the darkest times it will not get light until mid-morning and then by early afternoon, the sun has already disappeared again.
Throughout the years I’ve always felt my mood dip in the winter months. Not only is it dark for most of the day, but it’s also cold and wet. If I were to describe the type of weather I hate the most it would have those three attributes, dark, cold and wet.
But I never thought that darkness could have such a profound effect on your mood. I think that whether you feel good or not is largely a state of mind, rather than caused by outside circumstances. However, studies have shown that a lack of sunlight brings about a depressed mood and an increase in anxiety.
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
There are people who have been diagnosed with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) which is a type of depression that hits during the dark days, typically around the months of December, January and February.
The NHS has listed symptoms of SAD:
- Persistent low mood
- A loss of pleasure or interest in normal everyday activities
- Feelings of despair, guilt and worthlessness
- Feeling lethargic (lacking in energy) and sleepy throughout the day
- Sleeping for longer hours and finding it harder to get up in the morning
- Craving carbohydrates and gaining weight
Typically the treatment for SAD is to try to increase natural sunlight as much as possible.
Why We All Need Sunlight
Although it sounds like the message is that only people suffering from SAD need to increase their sunlight exposure during the winter, this is not the case.
Everyone who lives in parts of the world with limited light during winter should increase their sunlight exposure whether you are diagnosed with SAD or not.
Sunlight has so many benefits that we lose out on if we don’t get enough.
- It helps us stay in a positive mood (whether we have SAD or not)
- Decreases depression and anxiety
- Improves quality of sleep
- Increases red cell quantity and boosts our immune system
- Helps Vitamin D production
The following list emphasises why you should be looking to increase their sunlight exposure during winter especially if you want to maintain a positive mood and high productivity levels.
So how do we increase sunlight exposure?
We can’t ask the Sun to stay out longer but we can create our own artificial sunlight. The answer is by getting a SAD Lamp or a light therapy lightbox. This one trick could help you beat that downbeat mood you suffer during the winter, and give you access to your own personal sunlight.
In essence a SAD lamp creates a simulation of sunlight rather than ordinary yellow light you may get from an everyday lamp.
To use a SAD lamp you would place it in front of you at a certain distance and basically bathe in the light. You don’t have to look directly at it, you could place it on a table beside you as you work. Exposure for 30-60 minutes a day in the morning is all you need.
I started using a SAD Lamp 2 years ago and it’s worked wonders in helping me keep my mood up during the dark months, and I’m not an official SAD sufferer.
SAD Lamps Help You Stay Fresh & Alert
Not only does a SAD lamp improve mood, but if you have a powerful enough lamp you can turn it on when you get up to help kick start your day. It wakes your internal body clock by mimicking that the day has begun by breaking that cycle of lethargy where your body still thinks it’s night.
With this in mind, you only want to use your SAD lamp in the morning. If you use it too late you’ll send the wrong messages to your body and it may mess up your internal body clock whereby you find it difficult to sleep at night.
If you live in a region where it’s dark, I highly recommend you get yourself a light box or SAD lamp regardless if you have SAD or not. Even if you spend all your time outdoors during the winter it’s still unlikely you’ll get the optimal amount of sunlight because quite often the sun’s rays are hidden behind clouds.
The recommended dose is 10,000 lux (Lux is a unit of illumination) of light a day. On a overcast day the sun only emits 1,000 lux and on a very overcast day the figure is around 100 lux. You can see why SAD lamps are so important.
The Best SAD Lamps & Light Therapy Boxes
Lightboxes and SAD lamps come in all kinds of forms but the most important thing is to make sure that the Light box has a brightness level of at least 10,000 lux. Below I’ll go over some of the various SAD lamps available (in no particular order) including SAD lamps that I personally use.
1. Lifemax Light Pod
Many of the lightboxes I have come across are quite large and bulky. The Lifemax Light Pod seems to be a popular choice among those who want something portable and can be easily carried around. It can easily be placed on your desk as you work beside it.
2. VALKEE 2 Bright Light Therapy Headset
Whilst I can’t vouch for the effectiveness of this product in providing you with artificial sunlight, the concept is interesting. The idea behind the Valkee headset is that it delivers light therapy through the ear canals. If you are on the move and don’t have time to sit in front of a light, this could be an alternative to try.
3. Lumie Brightspark
This is the model that I currently use. Previously I had bought a Maplin model for half the price but it broke in under a week. I then decided that I wanted to spend a bit more and get a quality SAD lamp. Since buying the Lumie Brightspark three years ago I have never had any problems despite dropping it a few times. It is a very sturdy and durable light, perfect for someone who is afraid of having their light knocked over. The Bulb is replaceable however I’ve never had to replace it thus far.
The Lumie Brightspark is easy to carry around the house and doesn’t possess that awkward shape of the traditional lightboxes. It is also fairly slim.
If you want something compact, solid and reliable, then this is the lamp for you. I highly recommend this lamp.
4. Philips Intense Blue Energy Up
Smaller than a lot of the other SAD lamps on the market, the main feature behind the Philips Intense Blue lamp is that it uses blue light to emit a softer feel to it’s rays. This is a lamp that would be a great option for someone who travels a lot and wants to take their light with them.
5. Lumie Desklamp
If you want a SAD lamp to use at your desk then the Lumie Desklamp could do the job. Unlike most SAD lamps that come in a shape of a bulky box, this is far more suitable for a desk.
I use my own SAD lamp whilst I work at my desk and have to clear room to put my Brightspark on it. This would be a better alternative and something I look to invest in sometime in the future.
6. Lumie Brazil
The Lumie Arabica and the Lumie Brazil appear to be the most popular SAD lamps when it comes to the traditional box shape. The Lumie Brazil is on the large side but it also packs a lot of power using three special bulbs. This is going to be choice if you want your whole room to be bathed in sunlight during those dark months. If you want bright and powerful then the Lumie Brazil is for you.
7. Luminette 2 – SAD Light Therapy Glasses
The Luminette gives you the light you need by using them as glasses. It comes with three intensities of 500, 1,000 and 1,500 lux. Whilst it doesn’t meet the 10,000 lux criteria, trials have been claimed that the system is equivalent to using a 10,000 lux lamp. It’s fully chargable via a micro USB cable.
8. Phillips Wake Up Light
The list wouldn’t be complete without mentioning timed lighboxes which are designed to wake you up via natural light at a specific time. Waking up gradually with natural light is more beneficial than switching on the lights straight away. The Phillips wake up clock mimics the natural rising of the sun to ensure your room will be bright when you’re ready to get up.
This is another product that I personally use on top of my traditional Lumie Brightspark box. If you have trouble getting up to go to work on a dark and dreary morning this clock is a must buy. The wake up light will slowly light up your room until it is at full brightness at your set alarm time. Not only that, but it can play the sounds of birds singing. It really is a much more pleasant way to wake up in the morning.
However the Phillips Wake Up Light isn’t solely used for a waking up experience, it has a sunset function that helps you sleep at night by decreasing the light and sound too.
9. Lumie Arabica Seasonal Affective Disorder Lamp
The Lumie Arabica provides an optimal brightness of 10,000 lux and is a certified medical device. What makes it different from other lights is that it uses two special bulbs to create it’s extra brightness. The Lumie Arabica is a good option for those who want a medium sized lightbox, and not something quite as large as the Lumie Brazil.
10. Aurora SAD Lamp
The one negative of SAD lamps is that they are notoriously ugly to look at. The Aurora SAD lamp is one of the only designer lightboxes which you can proudly place on a desk without having to remove it when the guests come round. The designer lamp can also boast a 10,000 lux capability.
Buy A SAD Light and See the Improvements
Get a SAD Lamp or light therapy box. Even if you do not get severely depressed in the winter it’s still important for your body to get sunlight in the dark months.
Sunlight is beneficial to us for many reasons, but one of the most important is that it helps our mood. I believe that being healthy is made up of being healthy in both body and mind. People are willing to spend a lot on fitness equipment to work their body, but what about investing in your mental health?
Get a SAD lamp and see if it makes any difference. All it takes is sitting in front of it for 30 minutes in the morning. Give it a try, I’m sure you’ll see the benefits.
Oh, and if on that rare occasion that the winter sun does manage to pierce through the thick cloud, turn off the lightbox and go outside. Nothing beats going outside and getting the real thing.