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Do Full Spectrum Lamps Help Reduce the Effects of SAD?

Answered on August 19, 2014
Created December 19, 2011 at 10:53 PM

I've been having a really bad case of Seasonal Affective Disorder this year. I work in a cubicle from 10am-7pm, so it's dark by the time I get off work for most of the year. I also really hate the cold (75-80 degrees with dress clothes and 80-85 in casual clothes is comfortable to me), so I avoid going outside in the winter whenever possible.

I've been eating more eggs and supplementing with Vitamin D, and that seems to have helped some, but I still have significant trouble getting out of bed. On weekends when I don't have the threat of losing my job to motivate me to get out of bed, I often sleep 10-12 hours, sometimes more.

I looked through some previous questions and I found some references to a f.lux program, which I'll try, and also some full spectrum lamps. What exactly should I be looking for in a full spectrum lamp to know that it's "legit". Also, what's a cost effective solution? Can I get fluorescent tube light and mount it on the wall near my bed and set it on a timer to have it turn on 30 mins before I need to wake? Or is it more cost effective to get some lamps and put them on the lamp stands near my bed. Would it be beneficial to take a lamp to work with me as well?

Also, one last question. Does insurance pay for this if I go see my doctor? I can afford it if not, but with this overpriced crap my employer makes me pay for I might as well milk what I can from it. Government mandates suck.

324bf94d3d6f9322d6e4dba4becfaab1

on September 07, 2013
at 01:28 AM

From what I've been finding online so far, I should be looking for bulbs with a CRI of 90+ and a CCT of 5500K+. However, I'm still a bit confused on the difference between lumens and lux.

A7768b6c6be7f5d6acc76e5efa66464c

on December 22, 2011
at 05:45 AM

Also--to know the lux of a a DIY light box, you could get yourself a lux meter--but they cost about as much as a commercial light therapy box. You could go to all the trouble to build your own, but with all the variables (the lumens of the bulbs, how closely the bulbs are spaced, type of diffuser used, the distance you will be from the light), you might find that you're still not getting enough lux. Now you've spent the time and money on all that equipment, and you still don't have a good light box. This is why I chose to simply buy a ready-made box.

A7768b6c6be7f5d6acc76e5efa66464c

on December 22, 2011
at 05:28 AM

I'll try to explain in dummy language since that's how I understand it. Lumens is the total amount of visible light emitted by a fixture. Light emitted from a fixture decreases exponentially with distance from the fixture. The farther away something is from the fixture, the less of the total light hits it (some of the light is hitting other stuff outside your face, like the wall behind you, etc.). Lux measures how much of the light actually hits your face at a specific distance. Without special education and equipment, I doubt you can calculate lux from lumens. It's very difficult to DIY this.

Ca2c940a1947e6200883908592956680

(8574)

on December 20, 2011
at 09:26 AM

Just checked and it is now £32.49.

Ce41c230e8c2a4295db31aec3ef4b2ab

(32556)

on December 20, 2011
at 12:10 AM

How much D are you taking? ALL of my SAD symptoms disappeared once I got to high sufficiency. 50-80 ng/ml is the recommended blood level by the Vitamin D Council.

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3 Answers

2
A7768b6c6be7f5d6acc76e5efa66464c

on December 20, 2011
at 08:23 AM

I have used bright light therapy for about 6 or 7 years now, quite effectively. My own research when I began showed that light spectrum and color were mostly irrelevant, and that the intensity of the light was what mattered most. It seems that 10,000 lux at 12-18 inches from your eyes is optimal (though you don't have to actually stare at the light, you can read a book or whatever).

Dose seems dependent on intensity and distance, so one who achieves a therapeutic result at 10,000 lux at 18 inches for 30 minutes can likely get the same benefit from 5,000 lux at 18 inches for 60 minutes. The greater the distance, the more time one needs; similarly, the lower the intensity, the more time one needs.

All of my assertions here are based on research I did about 7 years ago, and I have NOT kept up with any new research. Basically, once I found what worked for me, I stopped researching. That's not necessarily a good way to do things. So you should do your own research--and look beyond what you find here on this site. I for one am curious about the previous answer's mention of adding blue light and would like to know more about that.

I'm also intrigued by a previous answer about vitamin D sufficiency, but then this doesn't explain why bright light therapy works, since it does not produce vitamin D.

As for rolling your own, I researched this when I first started because light boxes are expensive. It seemed generally very difficult to DIY a bright light therapy set up that produces 10,000 lux with off the shelf fluorescent tubes--they just aren't bright enough, you'd need dozens of them, and who has room for all that? Light therapy boxes use very high-intensity compact tubes, so you only need a couple of them. And those high-intensity tubes mean the whole appliance is quite small and portable, which is nice for travel. You might be able to buy the tubes (one can get replacement ones for their light boxes) and build your own box. Not sure how much money this would save--those tubes are pricey too.

I find that I desire longer exposures than are most typically recommended. I start out with about 20 minutes/day in October, but by January I'm often "basking" for nearly 2 hours in the morning. To fit this into my schedule, I must wake very early--often as early as 4am. As a result, I become tired at a sensible time in the evening, like 9pm instead of midnight. I find bright light therapy VERY effective at establishing and maintaining circadian rhythms, and I can tweak it to whatever sleep and wake cycle I want, provided I am consistent.

I use this morning basking time well: time at last to read! It's become a very cherished ritual for me that is both stimulating and energizing AND relaxing. It's like enforced "down time" that is not watching TV or something, which I feel many of us lack in our daily lives. I sip coffee, read books, magazines, plan meals and shopping, check email and browse forums like this, etc.

I would be pretty concerned about sleeping 10-12 hours. I've read that too much sleep makes one depressed, and encourages one to sleep even more, like a self-reinforcing cycle. For me it works better to always rise at the same time, year-round, and to add the bright light therapy between October and April. If I'm tired, I find it better to squeeze in a brief nap on days that I can get away with it, rather than to sleep more hours at a single stretch. This way your rhythms stay consistent.

One final note: I've read that dawn simulators may be as effective, or nearly so, as bright light therapy. These start to turn on about 30 minutes before you wake (like your idea with the fluorescent tube), brightening gradually just like sunrise. It's certainly a very gentle way to awaken without an alarm. I plan to get one and add it to my routine.

324bf94d3d6f9322d6e4dba4becfaab1

on September 07, 2013
at 01:28 AM

From what I've been finding online so far, I should be looking for bulbs with a CRI of 90+ and a CCT of 5500K+. However, I'm still a bit confused on the difference between lumens and lux.

A7768b6c6be7f5d6acc76e5efa66464c

on December 22, 2011
at 05:28 AM

I'll try to explain in dummy language since that's how I understand it. Lumens is the total amount of visible light emitted by a fixture. Light emitted from a fixture decreases exponentially with distance from the fixture. The farther away something is from the fixture, the less of the total light hits it (some of the light is hitting other stuff outside your face, like the wall behind you, etc.). Lux measures how much of the light actually hits your face at a specific distance. Without special education and equipment, I doubt you can calculate lux from lumens. It's very difficult to DIY this.

A7768b6c6be7f5d6acc76e5efa66464c

on December 22, 2011
at 05:45 AM

Also--to know the lux of a a DIY light box, you could get yourself a lux meter--but they cost about as much as a commercial light therapy box. You could go to all the trouble to build your own, but with all the variables (the lumens of the bulbs, how closely the bulbs are spaced, type of diffuser used, the distance you will be from the light), you might find that you're still not getting enough lux. Now you've spent the time and money on all that equipment, and you still don't have a good light box. This is why I chose to simply buy a ready-made box.

1
Dfada6fe4982ab3b7557172f20632da8

(5332)

on December 19, 2011
at 11:00 PM

I don't think fluorescents are a good idea. There are numerous reports of cheap substitues that people have made for more expensive full-spectrum or blue light emitters. It's very hard to judge objectively, but I would recommend you try it as I believe it will help you. I would suggest looking at the balance of reviews for the most popular brands and then if it is too expensive, look for the ways people have tried to recreate that particular technology. I have a Phillips goLite, which I got more to help with jet lag but also use as an 'alarm' clock.

I don't think you need a lamp at work as well, certainly I wouldn't worry about that to start with, just get in some natural light-stimulated waking to help establish your circadian rhythms and half an hour of blue light exposure in the morning and I think you'll find winter mornings, and everything else, much better. No guarantees, but it's worth a shot isn't it?

0
Ca2c940a1947e6200883908592956680

(8574)

on December 20, 2011
at 09:25 AM

I use the "Rio Low Energy SAD Light Therapy Lamp (£49.99)" and posted about it here: http://paleohacks.com/questions/76834/bright-light-therapy-for-seasonal-affective-disorder-on-a-budget/76898#76898

Ca2c940a1947e6200883908592956680

(8574)

on December 20, 2011
at 09:26 AM

Just checked and it is now £32.49.

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