Sunlight energises our planet; allowing all life, animal, insect, bird and human to exist and flourish. Light, from the invisible to the visible spectrum invigorates our body. We, and our planet depend on light for our health and wellbeing. Our circadian clock is regulated by light. It is constantly setting and resetting our hormonal requirements depending on the season of the year. An imbalance of hormones can lead to Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD.
Winter blues, we have all felt them from time to time, however when it persists for weeks and months, and turns into a mild depression, then we could be looking at SAD. Particularly if it reoccurs for a few consecutive years.
So what’s going on?
Well just think about it. not more than a couple of hundred years ago the majority of the population worked outside in Gods good light. Social historians have estimated that in Europe around 80% people worked outside observing the seasonal changes and with them the lengthening and decreasing daylight patterns. They were close to and in tune with nature. Contrast this to present day when we find only around 10% and decreasing of the population in Europe and North America are working in an outdoors environment. Our modern living patterns have drastically changed our responses to nature’s cues. In many parts of the higher latitudes in the winter month’s people are actually going to and from work in the dark. Moreover they are spending their working day in air-conditioned offices lit by banks of electrical lighting tubes. A combination of lifestyle, the darker days and poorer weather is to some people a kind of a “perfect storm” that affects their circadian rhythms and triggers the onset of SAD.
Circadian rhythm is an approximately 24hour cycle in the physiological process of animals and plants. It is regulated by temperature and most importantly sunlight. In humans these rhythms are important in the command chain that regulates most of our bodily functions. Our appetite, digestion, energy, sleep quality, sleep patterns and mood are all subject to influence of the circadian clock.
What is the cause of SAD?
Whilst the existence of SAD is acknowledged, the exact cause of SAD is not fully understood. The current theory is that lack of circadian trigger’s, affect the function of the hypothalamus. The Hypothalamus controls the secretion of essential hormones. In the case of SAD sufferers the two main hormones affecting their condition are .
- Serotonin. This affects mood, appetite social behavior and sleep. It is the reduction in serotonin levels that many researchers believe leads to the depression felt by SAD patients.
- Melatonin. This is critical to our wake/sleep patterns. Melatonin levels should rise and fall throughout our 24hr day. Rising at night and decreasing in the morning. If they don’t the disrupted sleep pattern noted in SAD occurs.
Who does seasonal affective disorder affect most?
Well SAD is a kind of equal opportunity disorder. What is clear is that people in countries closer to the equator are much less likely to be affected. Statistics show that although SAD can strike at any age, between the ages of twenty and thirty seems to be the most common. Women are likely to be affected than men by a factor of four.
How do you know you are suffering from SAD.
It often difficult to pinpoint SAD as being the cause for what many of us might call the ups and downs of normal life. What we must look for are recurring patterns of depression. Especially starting with the onset of short winter days. Common signs are
- Weepiness, low mood and sadness
- Loss of energy and easy fatigue
- Difficulty in concentrating
- Loss of appetite or change in eating patterns
- Loss of interest in your normal leisure activities.
- Loss of libido
Whilst all the symptoms listed above are atypical signs of depression the key here is to look for the recurring pattern. It would be difficult for a doctor to put all the above symptoms together and diagnose SAD from one visit. However if the symptoms are occurring on an annual basis and disappearing in the spring and summer months then SAD could be the cause. Many people find it useful to keep mood diary mid autumn to help spot the seasonal onset of SAD. Sufferers have reported a huge rush of energy and elation with the end of winter and early spring.
How is SAD treated?
When treated conventionally antidepressant medication is administered. Sometimes CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) is also prescribed. Light therapy is a popular alternative to using drugs. Being noninvasive and nontoxic it offers a more natural approach to the problem.
What is light therapy?
It uses powerful LED lights to mimic the effects of outdoor light. By spending periods of time during the day in front of the light box researchers believe that chemical changes in your brain encourage the proper function of the hypothalamus and pituitary glands. This then correctly regulates the release of Serotonin and Melatonin hormones, bringing the body’s circadian clock back into proper equilibrium.
So what is involved in the treatment?
There are many SAD lamps on the market today, and they do not require a medical prescription to buy them. Each manufacturer will have an explanation of use with the recommended safety protocols.
However we will give a brief typical treatment method.
- Firstly treatment should preferably be started before the onset of the SAD symptoms in early autumn. If not a soon as possible after the first signs are felt.
- The device should be conveniently placed a few feet away from you. You don’t have to look upon the treatment time as simply dedicated to the therapy, you can carry on normal life, for example taking breakfast or reading your morning newspaper.
- The time required in front of the device will vary depending on the power output of the device but typically thirty minutes to an hour should be sufficient. Research has shown that in fact early morning sessions can be most beneficial. So dove tailing them into your breakfast regime should be an efficient way to treat your self.
- The light that is emitted from SAD light boxes is very bright and in common with all LED light therapy devices you should avoid looking directly into the light panel.
Are SAD lamps safe?
The boxes should not emit UV spectrum light so there is no chance of damaging or ageing your skin. Unwanted side effects are rare, but cases of headaches, and occasional difficulty sleeping have been recorded, especially if a treatment is taken towards the evening. As noted do not look directly at the lighting panel. Your eyes do need to detect the light from the SAD lamp, so it is normally best placed above or at an angle to to subject being treated. Best treatment time is 1-2 hours after rising,
What to look for when purchasing a SAD Lamp?
- It may seem obvious, but the first thing to be sure of is the fact that you are buying a real SAD device. Not all are created equal a good general rule is to buy from a well-known and established manufacturer.
- A real SAD Lamp should produce a light intensity of at least 10000lux. But it does not end there. 10000lux does not really mean anything if it is not linked to distance. In other words a device can produce 10000lux at 1 inch from the panel but at our treatment distance of 2 – 3 feet it reduces to 1000lux. Manufactures should publish power figures expressed in intensity and distance.
- Does it emit UV rays? All good devices should have the UV part of the light spectrum filtered out.
- Where are you going to use it? An important consideration when deciding what to buy. This is a onetime buy, so it is better to try to make it future proof. There are many styles on the market. Look for the one that is going to meet your present needs but bear in mind you may choose to use it in two different locations in your home.
NatureBright SunTouch Plus Light and Ion Therapy SAD Lamp
Founded in 2001 NatureBright produces a range of SAD lamp and aromatherapy products. The SunTouch Plus is one of the two panel devices in their range. It produces the required SAD lamp therapy level of 10,000 LUX light, but also has added features other devices don’t offer.
The NatureBright SunTouch Plus also has a negative ion therapy element to further boost your energy levels. As an “add on” you can also purchase the clip on Sun Touch plus aroma capsule to dispense your chosen fragrance. This should help to boost your mood, and increase your energy levels when used correctly.
It has a slim and upright design that fits anywhere. With a small desktop foot-print when stood up, the dimensions are 9 x 6 x 13 inches. It weighs just over 4 pounds so it easy to store away when not in use.
Circadian Optics Lumos Light Therapy Portable LED Daylight Lamp
The Circadian Optics Lumos Lamp has a 60 LED array which is rated to last 50,000 hours. It houses a built in diffuser to filter out UV light. It produces a diffuse and even light across the entire panel so no harsh glare. The 10,000 lux light is effective in easing various circadian rhythm problems.
Carex Health Brands Day-Light Classic Bright Light Therapy Lamp
The Carex Health Brand is one of the world leaders in SAD lamp therapy as well as many other health aids.
The popular Day-Light Classic is a clinical grade lamp that meets standards for home therapeutic use. The Day-Light Classic represents one of the bestvSAD lamps that are currently in the Carex range.
It features a full 10,000lux of glare-free white light at 12 inches. For skin and eye safety UV rays are 99.3% filtered out.
The lamp has two mode settings allowing you to choose between 6500 and 10,000lux. The lower the setting the longer the treatment time of course.
You will find the angle and height of the treatment head adjusts to easily position the unit most conveniently for your use. This is a large, and quite heavy home device, the overall dimensions are 12 x 15.8 x 31.1 inches. It weighs in at 9.4 pounds, so not too convenient to put away after use.
Aurora LightPad Mini – 10,000 LUX – LED Bright Light Therapy SAD Lamp
The Aurora Light Pad Mini provides pure white SAD lamp through 180 LEDs that are both shock and vibration resistant. This is a super powerful and super portable, tablet sized SAD lamp (7.5 x 0.5 x 5.2 inches)
Most of its competitors advertise 10,000 lux at 12 inches, but the Aurora produces the same but at an incredible 25 inches. It has three levels of brightness intensity control. It is housed in a very durable metal case, and has an adjustable stand.
Northern Light Technology Travelite Bright Light Box
Made in Canada, the Northern Light Technologies Travelite SAD lamp is a very energy efficient device, with a clean, modern and up to date design. Its portability makes it an ideal companion at work or at home.
The Travelite delivers 10,000 lux from two full spectrum diffused light bulbs. The Light box has a non adjustable stand but it can be tilted in a vertical or horizontal position.
Treatment times when used at a distance of around 12 inches should only take around 30 minutes per day. The product is quite portable size wise at 7 x 2.5 x 13 inches, however it does weigh a fairly hefty 2.9 lbs due to its quality metal finish.
This is a lamp from a well-established Canadian supplier. It provides a no frills SAD lamp therapy device built to the exacting Canadian Standards Association guidelines.
It also comes with a comforting seven year guarantee. See reviews >>
Verilux HappyLight Deluxe 10,000 LUX Sunshine Simulator
The Verilux HappyLight Deluxe is a medium sized desktop SAD lamp. It is fitted with two 36-watt Natural Spectrum fluorescent bulbs giving an overall output of 10,000lux. Established since 1956 Verilux is a large supplier of a variety of natural spectrum lighting devices and bulbs.
The HappyLight Deluxe lamp can be either table or wall mounted in a portrait orientation. It is medium sized with dimensions of 19 x 13 3/8 x 3 ¼ inches and it weighs in at 6.8 lbs.
This is a serious choice for individuals who suffer from winter blues or other circadian rhythm conditions. It should help the body recalibrate and stabilize by providing light to replace what’s missing during the winter months.
The Deluxe model is designed to provide effective, comfortable light therapy. You will find the built in lens diffuser reduces glare and eye fatigue.
Verilux gives a rather disappointing one year guarantee on this lamp, but does provide an excellent US customer support when required. See reviews >>
Sphere Gadget Technologies Lightphoria,
The Lightphoria is a super portable sad lamp. It has 72 LED lights to deliver 10,000lux of UV free light, and all in a diminutive frame measuring just 6 x 6.5 x 1 inch. Built into the frame are the control buttons allowing you to select Lo, medium or hi settings for light intensity. There is also a built in timer allowing a selection of 15, 30 or 45 minutes. Power to the unit is via mains and a110/240V adapter is included in the box.
A short 20-30 minute treatment time each morning is all you need to significantly improve your day time energy levels and mood. It will also help to regulate your sleep patterns.
Sphere Gadget Technologies have packed a lot into a small package. The Lightphoria has a great price. It’s a great portable. See reviews >>
Verilux HappyLight Liberty 10,000 LUX Natural Spectrum Energy Sad Lamp
The HappyLight Liberty Light System creates a balanced 10,000lux natural spectrum light that taps the potency of light to gently recalibrate and stabilize your circadian clock.
Sleek and space saving, the dimensions are just 13 x 6.25 x 2.12 inches. It is fitted with an energy efficient Natural Spectrum Fluorescent bulb that emits no harmful UV rays. The Liberty provides you an effective, comfortable light therapy. The unit is fitted with both an Optix lens diffuser to reduce glare, and Flicker-Elimination Technology to reduces fatigue and discomfort. Two levels of light intensity are available to select.
The device prompts the body’s responses to assist in alleviating jet lag, mood elevation and a boost to energy levels. It comes with a one year guarantee See reviews >>
Philips GoLITE BLU Energy Light, Rechargeable Sad Lamp
The Philips brand needs no introduction, they have a reputation for producing excellent products and the GoLITE BLU energy light is no exception. The usable light emitted through the LEDs has been filtered to insure it is 100 percent UV free.
It has five light intensity settings that can be selected from the front of the device. It will remember your last used setting when you turn it back on again. A timer is built in, it uses a segmented bar, each segment represents 10 minutes.
The light is evenly diffused through a combination of diffusers, reflectors, and filters, these help prevent glare and makes it even safer for your eyes.
The super portable GoLite Blu SAD lamp has a travel lock to stop accidental battery discharge when being transported. A rechargeable battery allows it to run cordless for one hour when fully charged, and a power cord if you want to run it from a power socket. Overall dimensions are just 5 ½ x 5 ½ x 1 ½ inches, equivalent Light level, as all SAD lamps is 10,000lux. See reviews >>
Nature Bright Sun Bliss 2 in 1 Portable Light Therapy and Wake-Up Sad Lamp
The Sun Bliss Portable is both a SAD lamp and an alarm clock. It has been designed to deliver the benefits of the sun without its harmful UV rays. 30 minutes a day is all you need to helps you sleep by helping improve your mood and regulate and circadian rhythm.
The lamp’s 10,000 LUX LED diffusion lens makes the light very easy on the eyes. Although not a complete sunrise simulation, the light when used as an alarm provides a gradual increase of light during your wake up period. Small and very portable too. See reviews >>