As Darker Days Set In, Gentle-TherapyLamps Can Thaw Your Winter Blues

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As Darker Days Set In, Light-TherapyLamps Can Thaw Your Winter Blues

The darker winter season usually leads to lethargy and melancholy in many of us, but this is no ordinary winter. With coronavirus outbreaks across the country and submerged social activities coupled with a stressful and drawn-out election season, medical professionals are predicting a long winter for those suffering from seasonal affective disorders and other forms of winter depression.

"People in many communities are asked to stay indoors as much as possible," said Dr. Zena Samaan, Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neuroscience at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada. "That goes against all the mental health advice we normally recommend to people."

If the shortened days affect you physically and mentally – anxiety, fatigue, loss of pleasure, difficulty sleeping, or appetite – you probably know about seasonal affective disorder (SAD), an often debilitating discomfort caused by daylight deprivation that usually subsides with winter turns into spring and summer.

SAD can only be diagnosed by a doctor, said Dr. Teodor Postolache, Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Maryland Medical School, and it's not a once-in-a-lifetime experience: To be clinically diagnosed, a person must have had remission and depression reawakening in several winters – not necessarily consecutive, but more than seasonal one.

Dr. Postolache has researched and diagnosed the condition in people of all ages and races, and while SAD and "Holiday Blues" often merge, not all depression that occurs during the winter months is necessarily SAD, he said.

Dr. Jamie Zeitzer, associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral science at Stanford University, said the biological triggers for the disease were unclear. “However, the hypothesis is that an increase in melatonin production caused by longer winter nights can trigger SAD in vulnerable people. ”

"Light has some pretty powerful biological effects on the brain," he continued, particularly in regulating melatonin production and the sleep-wake cycle.

Because SAD is so tightly bound to light, therapy lamps, sometimes referred to as light boxes, can be a powerful and easy way to treat the disorder at home. The lamps use dozens of light bulbs to mimic sunlight and are housed in an enclosure that protects you from harmful damage UV rays. They emit up to 10,000 lux – lumens per square meter – light over a short distance, about as much as sunlight on a clear day. You don't need a prescription and can generally be reimbursed using a Flexible Spending Account (FSA), Health Savings Account (HSA), or Health Reimbursement Agreement (HRA).

While light therapy isn't the only treatment for SAD and the less severe "winter blahs", it is among the most effective. The key is to do it "consistently and correctly," said Dr. Zeitzer. "The most important thing is to find the brightest, most comfortable light you want to use every day."

As an employee at Wirecutter, the New York Times company that tests and recommends products, I have tested several light therapy lamps of different shapes, sizes, and brightnesses, from dim lamps the size of a kitchen coaster to glowing giants, most of them from a large desk . (Before purchasing, discuss your circumstances with a doctor who is experienced in controlling light therapy, as the devices can cause side effects if used improperly or in people with certain medical conditions, including migraines and non-SAD mood disorders.)

When purchasing a light therapy lamp, consider where you are most likely to use it. Then you can decide whether functions such as portability or mechanical adjustability should be prioritized. (Most portable lamps are not adjustable, while more powerful lamps can be adjusted.) The size and brightness of the surface will determine how much therapeutic light you will get and how long you will have to sit there to get the most benefit.

The FDA does not test, approve, or regulate light therapy devices. Therefore, buyers are required to adhere to the manufacturer's specifications regarding seat spacing of just a few inches to about two feet for maximum effectiveness. Most light therapy lamps, according to Dr. Samaan and others between 2,500 and 10,000 lux Doctors we interviewed said 10,000 lux is the minimum for a SAD lamp to be therapeutically effective. So look for a model that the manufacturer says emits 10,000 lux (as most reputable brands do).

Wirecutter's top pick, the Carex Day-Light Classic Plus ($ 115) has been used in academic research and projects 10,000 lux of light at its highest setting. The lamp has a particularly large light surface (15.5 x 12.5 inches) and is attached to an adjustable table base so that you can position yourself under the light while working on a laptop or reading a book. Most lamps with smaller areas of light require you to sit closer to them and receive as much light for longer.

A more streamlined lamp that is almost the same size and also emits 10,000 lux is the Northern Light Technologies Boxelite ($ 190), which is also best used on a table or desk. If you prefer a portable and cheaper lamp, the Verilux HappyLight Luxe ($ 70) is a compact tabletop model that the manufacturer says puts out 10,000 lux.

Some newer models come with built-in devices such as alarm clocks and cell phone charging. However, good aesthetics and unnecessary add-ons tend to lead to higher prices and no additional therapy.

Whichever model you prefer, any good quality, effective therapeutic lamp should emit white light (not blue) and use either LED or fluorescent lamps, not incandescent lamps. The lamps should be covered with a permanent plastic cover to absorb ultraviolet radiation, which can be dangerous to your eyes.

Just as you should never stare directly at the sun, you should never look directly at a glowing light therapy lamp. "One look at the light leads to macular degeneration," warned Dr. Postolache. “Peripheral vision is what you want to stimulate. So treat yourself to something while you focus on something else, such as B. paying bills. "Or better yet," he said, "to do something that you enjoy and that helps you relax."

Indeed, it can be of benefit to you simply to devote time to light therapy. "Everyone is home all the time now and busy with a lot of chores, but light therapy is an opportunity to just sit and paint your nails or read a magazine," said Dr. Postolache. "This time sitting with the lamp creates the advantage of having some time for yourself, which in itself can increase the effectiveness of this treatment."

Want to learn more about the best ways to buy and how to use them? Visit Wirecutter for the latest reviews and daily deals.

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