A Guide to Choosing the Right Full Spectrum Light for SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder)
IF Insider No. 66
In our last issue (IF Insider No. 65), we gave you six powerful strategies for staying on track with your health goals during the holidays. Today, we’re going to look at a problem that, for many people, can hang around all winter. That problem is SAD…seasonal affective disorder. And even if you don’t have SAD, chances are you don’t feel your best on dreary winter days. If so, this is for you too!
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SAD, Happy Lamps and Full Spectrum Light - Chase Away Those Winter Blues!
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that may occur in some people during certain seasons of the year, usually during the winter months, when there is a decrease in the amount of natural light to which you are exposed. This occurs because in many places, during the winter, not only are there fewer hours of daylight each day but there are also more cloudy, overcast days as well. The cold weather plus dreary conditions mean that many people will choose to stay indoors, depriving themselves of healthful exposure to natural light.
SAD can affect one's mood, energy levels, and ability to function. Fortunately, there is a safe, affordable treatment option that can help many individuals suffering from SAD. Full spectrum light therapy, also known as bright light therapy, is a scientifically proven treatment for SAD that has been used for decades. Let’s explore how full-spectrum light can be used to treat SAD, the potential benefits of this treatment, and how to choose the best light.
Full-spectrum light therapy is a form of light therapy that uses artificial light to mimic the sun's natural light. Full-spectrum light is beneficial in treating SAD because it helps regulate your body's circadian rhythm and helps balance hormones that are associated with mood.
Full-spectrum light therapy is becoming increasingly popular for treating various conditions, from seasonal affective disorder (SAD) to depression, anxiety, and even sleep disturbances. Because it provides a more natural and balanced light spectrum, it is more effective than traditional light therapy.
Overall, full-spectrum light therapy is a safe and effective treatment option if you suffer from SAD. It can help improve symptoms and can be used in combination with other treatments, such as medication and counseling if light alone is not effective.
How To Choose A Full-Spectrum Light
When looking for a full spectrum light for treating SAD, look for a light that:
~ produces a bright white light that produces an exposure of 10,000 lux
~ produces little to no UV light to avoid damaging your eyes
~ fits your lifestyle needs. These lights come in a variety of shapes and sizes, from larger upright lamps to smaller travel sizes.
After I did the research for this article, I bought a full-spectrum light for my daughter, who has SAD. We choose the Verilux® Happy Lamp® (don’t you just love the name?!) as it fits all of the specifications, including being the right size to fit conveniently on her desk. This light is under one hundred dollars, so it’s affordable for most families and individuals.
Be sure to read the manufacturer’s directions and recommendations on how far away to place the light, so you receive the recommended amount of light. Make sure the light is adjustable so you can adjust the intensity of the light to the desired level.
Although full spectrum light is now a well-accepted treatment for SAD, these lights are not regulated by the FDA, and most health insurance plans do not cover the cost of purchase. You do not need a prescription to purchase one of these lights.
Although you should follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for your particular light, typically, it’s best to use it for 20 to 30 minutes in the first hour after you wake up, such as while having breakfast or drinking your coffee or tea. Place the light about 16 to 24 inches away from your face (41 to 61 cm) and keep your eyes open but do not look directly at the light itself.
Full spectrum light has proven to be an effective treatment for SAD, Seasonal Affective Disorder. One caution: if you have bipolar disorder, speak to your physician before using light therapy, as sometimes the added light exposure can cause a manic episode. Also, these lamps will not boost your body’s Vitamin D production, so follow your health care provider’s recommendations on Vitamin D supplementation.
Plus, you don’t have to have been diagnosed with full-blown SAD to reap the benefit of full-spectrum light. I find that on really dreary days, 20 to 30 minutes of early morning light exposure makes me feel more alert and, well…happier!
Whether you’re using a SAD lamp or natural sunlight, it’s important to take advantage of this therapy if you’re feeling down due to the changing weather. By exposing yourself to intense light, your body will produce more serotonin and melatonin, which can make you feel more energized and happier, as well as help you to sleep better at night.
So, if you’re suffering from SAD, or you just can’t get going on a dreary winter’s day, don’t hesitate to try out full spectrum light as a treatment. It may just be the answer you’ve been looking for to chase away those winter blues!
References for the Curious
1. Hamre, K. J., & Koo, B. L. (2017). Bright light therapy for seasonal affective disorder: Current evidence, clinical implications, and future directions. Journal of Affective Disorders, 210, 114-122. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6746555/
2. Roecklein, K. A., Rohan, K. J., & Postolache, T. T. (2008). A review of light therapy for seasonal affective disorder. Psychosomatic Medicine, 70(8), 841-851. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3004726/
3. Lam, R. W., Levitt, A. J., Levitan, R. D., Enns, M. W., Morehouse, R., Michalak, E. E., & Tam, E. M. (2006). The CANMAT task force recommendations for the management of seasonal affective disorder in adults. The Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, 51(9), 558-570.
Why It Matters
“…the glorious sun stays in his course and plays the alchemist, turning with splendor of his precious eye the meagre cloddy earth to glittering gold: the yearly course that brings this day about shall never see.” King John: Act 3, Scene 1.
~ William Shakespeare (1564 - 1616) The Bard of Avon and England’s national poet, Shakespeare is widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language.
What We Are Reading 📚
Denise - I’m working through an online writing course (not copywriting), and one the books recommended is Robert Fritz’s The Path of Least Resistance for Artists: The Structure and Spirit of the Creative Process. This is not my usual reading fare (I’m binging on the Joe Pickett series by C.J. Box; I just finished #15 out of 23 books), and I don’t think of myself as an artist. However, I do write every single day and want to improve how I get my ideas and stories across. A primary way of doing that is mastering structural tension, and therefore, I’m reading this artist’s book.
Ellen - Here’s a short explanation from Satchin Panda, Ph.D., on why early am light exposure is key for nighttime melatonin production. Dr. Panda is a professor at the Salk Institute, La Jolla, California, where his research focuses on the circadian regulation of behavior, physiology, and metabolism in model organisms and humans.
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