Should I be happy when it comes to SAD lamps?
July 25, 2009 7:47 AM   Subscribe

I know there have been some other questions on SAD lamps, but I'm more interested in whether they actually do make a difference. Anecdotal and empirical evidence are both sought after. Also, recommendations in the UK.

I couldn't say for sure that I suffer from SAD, but I know for a fact that I feel bad when there's no sun. So I thought I might invest in a SAD lamp... but is it worth it? If you could recommend any that you have used to your advantage (UK only plz) it would be much appreciated.

Also, I've been tempted by ones that are a light/alarm clock combo. Would I really end up using this that much?
posted by jhighmore to Technology (16 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
I wired up a 150 watt mercury vapor lamp to a timer, set to come on about an hour before I wake up in the winter. It makes a HUGE difference to wake up in the equivalent of bright sunshine rather than in the dark
posted by paanta at 8:06 AM on July 25, 2009

I purchased an Ott light when I was working in a corporate environment in an office with no windows. I knew I needed it when I would walk into the president's sun flooded corporate office and my psyche would go wild with longing for natural light. The Ott light bathed me in near sunlight, and would lift my mood. The job was unendurable and I eventually quit, and took my light with me. I have used it every day to read by at night, and the original bulb is still working after six years. Thirty five dollars well spent.
posted by effluvia at 8:15 AM on July 25, 2009

I knew I needed it when I would walk into the president's sun flooded corporate office and my psyche would go wild with longing for natural light. (effluvia)

I don't have such a lamp, but have often thought of getting one, for precisely this reason. (Though this is less of an issue now that I work next to huge windows.)
posted by ocherdraco at 8:32 AM on July 25, 2009

Anecdata from a friend diagnosed with mild depresson: Yes, it works.
posted by scratch at 8:34 AM on July 25, 2009

Bought an SAD lamp for Mrs rongorongo 3 years ago since she, like you, thought she might suffer from SAD - we live at 56 degrees north and mid-winter can be pretty Stygian. For most of the time since it has laid un-used at the back of a cupboard however: the problem, I guess, is that one needs to find the time to sit in front of it - unless you suffer really badly then it can be hard to be bothered with that in the long term. The advantages of the wake-up alarms is that you just set them and forget them: however I do not think there are any around which give the kind of light exposure - for the required duration - that is supposed to help with SAD (you may end up feeling better on account of waking up in bright light however).

You might find it easier to just modify your routine to take best advantage of the available light: arrange to take walks outside in the middle of the day and, if possible, to get up when it gets light rather than before hand.
posted by rongorongo at 8:40 AM on July 25, 2009

When I lived in New Hampshire (I'm a Texas boy by nature), my first winter was hell. The second winter, I talked to the medical folks on my campus, and they subsidized a SAD lamp. It helped IMMENSELY. I couldn't imagine dealing without it, especially when the hours of sunlight were basically 10am-3pm.

I wish I'd had an alarm clock combo on mine, but as I wasn't paying for it (directly, at least - I wager my tuition was, at least in part), I couldn't complain.
posted by SNWidget at 9:38 AM on July 25, 2009

Fwiw, light therapy for SAD was quite popular in Sweden until SBU did a couple of meta studies in 2004 and 2007 and found that it didn't have a scientifically significant effect beyond placebo; from the 2007 study conclusions:

"The value of therapy with a light box for seasonal affective disorder (SAD or seasonal depression) can be neither confirmed nor dismissed. Thus, although a number of studies have been published since SBU released its 'Treatment of Depression' report in 2004, the therapy should still be regarded as experimental. There is no significant difference between placebo and light therapy with regard to the number of patients who improve by at least 50%. The results are contradictory when it comes to the number of patients who experience remission. SBU’s meta-analysis of studies that use light boxes shows that the therapy reduces the severity of depression on a rating scale somewhat more than placebo during the first few weeks but that the effect is temporary (Evidence Grade: Insufficient Scientific Evidence)."

(the full report is available via that link, if you want to dig deeper.)

There's been a least one recent Swedish study that claims to have gotten better results using hospital-grade light boxes, but I assume that getting one of those might be outside your budget...

(but at least it won't make things worse, and placebo is placebo...)
posted by effbot at 9:52 AM on July 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

Portland, Oregon here. I bought this lightbox last winter and really felt that it helped. Maybe it's a placebo effect, but either way I'll take it. As someone who works in a windowless environment, cannot leave to take walks outside, leaves the house at 7am and sometimes doesn't get home till after 6, I may not see the sun at all for days at a time in the winter. I found that it made an immediate difference in my mood. YMMV of course.

I worried at first about making the time to use it, but found I could set it on the counter while I made my lunch in the morning. My neighbors must have wondered what kind of science experiment I was conducting; the light is BRIGHT and bluish and looks surreal in the blackness that is 5:45 am. Check out the optimal distance you need to sit from it, then think of a time in your morning routine where you'll be (relatively) stationary for 15 minutes or so.
posted by lilnublet at 11:22 AM on July 25, 2009

Does work, but you need more than an Ott light, in my opinion.

I put 32, 1/2 inch by four foot, florescents, together packed on a 4' x 4' panel. Watching me assemble it most people thought it would be blinding, and way too bright. It's mounted on the ceiling and now everyone finds it quite pleasant. When I turn it off, it's like, "whoah! It's dark in here now."
posted by StickyCarpet at 12:17 PM on July 25, 2009

Thank you effbot, that SBU site is wonderful. It's icon is sitting in my bookmarks toolbar right now.

I am inclined to think that lightboxes have not lived up to their initial promise as treatments for SAD because they don't generate any of the vitamin D the same exposure to the natural sunlight they are trying to imitate would:

Vitamin D3 is made in the skin when 7-dehydrocholesterol reacts with UVB ultraviolet light at wavelengths between 270–300 nm, with peak synthesis occurring between 295-297 nm.[12][13] These wavelengths are present in sunlight when the UV index is greater than 3. At this solar elevation, which occurs daily within the tropics, daily during the spring and summer seasons in temperate regions, and almost never within the arctic circles, adequate amounts of vitamin D3 can be made in the skin after only ten to fifteen minutes of sun exposure at least two times per week to the face, arms, hands, or back without sunscreen. With longer exposure to UVB rays, an equilibrium is achieved in the skin, and the vitamin simply degrades as fast as it is generated.[1]

Nor is it all that easy to get this UVB from artificial sources. Most commercial tanning beds filter it out because the milder UVA is sufficient for a tan. I heard a vitamin D researcher on The People's Pharmacy claim that, for similar reasons, only Sperti lamps of all the home sunlamps ever made will generate vitamin D in quantity.

Should people forget about the lightboxes and just go for the vitamin D supplements? Maybe not; I suspect the body may use the light exposure as a signal that all is well in the vitamin D department and let go of the depression more rapidly at least, and that this could explain the initial but unsustained benefit people report from using the boxes.

In any case, if I were using a lightbox, I'd be taking a lot of vitamin D.
posted by jamjam at 12:46 PM on July 25, 2009

Anecdotal: My good buddy (in Dublin) sits in front of his light box an extra 1-3 hours in the pre-light darkness and swears by the darn thing. He says it really makes all the difference.

Link: SAD Info from the University of British Columbia
posted by tamarack at 12:57 PM on July 25, 2009

My housemate has one. A Lumie Brightspark.

It seems to work in my opinion. He used it for SAD and it was quite effective, and I've used it occasionally and got a noticeable boost. For example, it works surprisingly well if you need to stay up all night to finish off some work.

I think he got it in Boots. I should point out though, that it's not cheap and Boots doesn't seem to be the cheapest.
posted by knapah at 2:06 PM on July 25, 2009

I wired up 12 energy saving bulbs on a board and used it during winter, when there's 3 hrs or less of light where I live, it made a difference. What cheered me up for one thing was that even during daylight it was still brighter in my room than outside. Would do it again.
posted by yoHighness at 6:00 PM on July 25, 2009

To go along with jamjam's post... a buddy of mine lives in Seattle. I visited him recently and noticed he's got a few SAD lamps because of how dark and grey it gets there in winter. So I asked if they worked, and he said they helped, but that last year he tried taking Vitamin D3 supplements and felt that the supplements worked better than the lamps.

I know, it's just another anecdote, but I do think this winter here in Chicago I'll be trying the vitamins myself.
posted by dnash at 11:02 PM on July 25, 2009

I'm in the UK and use a 30 minute dawn simulator lamp - the illusion of waking in the light rather than the dark during the winter makes you feel... human. I realised that for me it's all about the quality of morning waking that affects the whole day and season, the dark evenings are no problem.

Phillips Wake-Up Light.

I got mine significantly cheaper than their price but I can't remember where now.

Sort it out now - before the darkness returns!
posted by Hugobaron at 3:44 AM on July 26, 2009

I have an older version of the lite book. I'm one of those people who is a grump all winter even though I try not to be. This has helped. It's also fairly unbreakable, small, and the lights last a very long time.
posted by x46 at 1:32 PM on July 26, 2009

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