My Analysis: It works!
Over the past four weeks, I have been experimenting with a 10,000 lux sun lamp. Living in the midwest can bring about winter blues or worse, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Due to a lack of sunlight, millions of northern dwellers are affected with some degree of SAD. SAD is a condition where one’s depression varies by the amount sunlight he or she gets throughout the seasons. Changes in the seasons can disrupt the balance of the body’s level of melatonin, a hormone that plays a role in sleep patterns and mood (mayoclinic.org)
I graciously received my sun lamp from the people at CaribSun.com. I received model CSB, a compact yet strong lamp with 108 LED lights with a UV shield. This lamp comes with 10,000 lux which is the maximum amount available on the market today. I also wrote a post before my experiment. You can read the post here.
Strangely, for a large part of the experiment, we had sunny or partly sunny days. That was really surprising to me, as sunny days are not common here in the late fall. On average, Chicago receives only around 180 days of sunlight per year. The first two weeks I used the lamp, there were 9 sunny or partly sunny days (higher than average). The last two weeks of use, there were 5 mostly sunny days, which is typical.
I used the sun lamp every morning, about 20 minutes after waking up. I made sure the lamp was well positioned, within 24 inches of my face. Most mornings were dark or right around sunrise. Weekend mornings, I used the lamp later (in daylight) since I slept in. I also recorded my feelings before and after using the lamp. I figured the easiest way to record my feelings was to use the same pain scale that hospitals use. I also wrote down if I spent any time outside. I knew if the weather was nicer and I was out in the sun, that it might affect my results.
Here are my stats:
Average time used: 40 minutes
When the lamp was used most often: 6:40-7:20 AM (8 AM on weekends)
My average feeling BEFORE I used the lamp: 4-5 (on the pain scale above)
My average feeling AFTER I used the lamp: 2-3
My average exposure to the sun on a daily basis: Minimal (outside less than an hour)
For the most part, using the sun lamp in the morning helped me to wake up faster. Being exposed to that much light, decreased the amount of melatonin in my bloodstream. (Melatonin regulates night and day cycles and prepares the body for sleep.)
Eventually, I began to anticipate my mornings with the light, eager to wake up with the light on my face. (note: the light gives off no heat.) After I used the light, I felt less groggy, more awake, and more ready to start my day. I usually have sore eye muscles in the mornings. Using the light, I did notice less eye strain.
I will definitely continue to use the lamp every morning throughout the winter. I am really excited to see how it will affect my usual winter blues. I expect that while I’m using the light, my seasonal depression will be kept at bay. Sitting in front of the sun lamp definitely reminds me of bathing in the tropical sun, without the warmth, but with the same amount of light intensity. Of course, it helps to be reminded of that – vacation, time with the family, and away from the everyday routine. Thinking of this made me realize that there may be more to suffering from the winter blues that is on a psychological level, not just hormonal.
Psychology: (In the eyes of a life long midwestern gal)
With winter comes depression. As someone who does not enjoy winter, there is a psychological pain knowing that your time outdoors is limited. Winter brings freezing temperatures, you don’t see the sun much, and you feel trapped inside. Winter makes everything difficult – you have to prepare yourself to leave the house and to drive cautiously in snowy conditions. Winter, to me, is old man winter’s cruel lash striking you hard.
Being constantly cold is upsetting. Shoveling is also depressing and has been very repetitive here in recent years. For some, winter is fun because it means skiing, sledding, and other fun activities in the snow. However, they are not shoveling it, driving in it, and living months in its cruel grasp. Winter brings anxiety, sadness, and harsher reality.
Sure there are moments when the quiet solidarity of winter is welcome. The empty streets, the crisp fresh air, the beauty of the pure white coat on the landscape – all beautiful, natural moments of winter. Unfortunately, these moments are not frequent.
So even though the sun lamp and light therapy may help physically, it won’t likely help psychologically. This is why recent studies have shown that those with SAD also see a medical professional for counseling (in addition to light therapy). Those suffering need to identify and change negative thoughts and behaviors, in addition to knowing how to cope and manage stress (MayoClinic.org). Being able to treat the hormonal cause of SAD and the psychological cause is the best course of treatment.
For me, the light seems to be working just fine for now. I can’t wait to see how much happier I will be in the dead of winter. I’ll have to write a post in the spring to let you know for sure.