Combating SAD with a light therapy box - suggestions?
November 18, 2013 6:41 AM   Subscribe

My mood has always taken a downturn around November and picked up again mid-April for as long as I can remember. I've been getting particularly depressed this year, so I talked with my therapist and was diagnosed with SAD. She recommended a light therapy box to help, but with my circumstances I am unsure of which to purchase. Details inside.

The one my therapist recommended was the Day-light Sky, which seems to be reviewed well on Amazon:


The therapist stressed the importance of the light coming from above so that it mimics the way I would get light from the sun. The problem is that I travel a lot and it seems rather heavy (8 pounds, I believe) so I have been looking at the more compact Phillips GoLite BLU as well:


This box, however, does not seem to be as highly rated and its light does not shine down from above; as these boxes are expensive, I would like something that has a good chance of working for me.

One other concern is that I would like to actually "wake up" to a light like this turning on gradually while I am in bed, but it seems that you use these boxes after you have fully woken up; the biggest problem for me is the lack of natural light, grey-ness, no birds chirping in the morning etc which gets me down and makes me want to stay snoozing in bed all day. I've tried with my room light, but the light feels too artificial and I would like more of a gradual progression from darkness to light. I don't think either of these boxes can be used as a "wake-up light." Maybe I am wrong?

I've looked at the following product as well, which is a "gradual wake-up light" and seems right up my alley. But it is cumbersome for travel, plus doesn't emit the 10,000 lux that the research claims is the ideal amount to treat SAD:


Does anyone have any other light therapy box suggestions that fit my specifications? Or are there ways to work around the concerns I have with the two I mentioned? Would using a light therapy box as a wake-up light be possible? Hopefully I am able to find one that can be taken moved easily, but for me efficacy takes priority over travel size; if I find something for the home that has a significant effect on my winter blues, I will be happy to buy a portable one later on as well.

Thanks in advance!
posted by BuddyBoo to Health & Fitness (10 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
I have the Daylight Sky and it is great. I first bought one of the small ones that shines from below, and while it's good for traveling, you have to hold it over your head so it doesn't hurt your eyes (and to get the right angle), which gets ridiculous very quickly. The light is also too focused so it hurts to look directly at it, but you don't get enough light if you don't.

I turn my Daylight Sky on first thing when I come down for coffee and keep it on for a while while I check email etc. I suppose you could put it on a timer to turn on by your bed? It does have two settings so I guess you could set it to turn on the lower one and raise it when you actually get up.

If you're going to spend the money I definitely recommend the Daylight Sky. Smaller more portable ones just are not as good. If you find it works, maybe you can get one of those later for traveling, but I'd start with a "real" one to see if it helps. It definitely helps wake me up and satisfy my craving for light in the darker months. Good luck!
posted by walla at 6:56 AM on November 18, 2013

I got a light box years ago from Northern Lights (in Alaska.) It's a very simple, very effective box, they still sell it, and I still use mine early in the morning from mid-October until spring. I have had various routines for using it:sitting in front of it, having it on a timer on my bedside table, hanging it on a wall near my headboard. I usually read the paper while using it or do some other paper-oriented task, as it's a little too bright to use with my ipad or laptop.

I usually see a noticeable increase in my energy and mood and a decrease in my craving for sweets within about three or four days of starting light therapy each year. About the only side effect is kicking yourself for not trying it sooner.

FWIW, my diagnosis is recurrent major depression (atypical). Atypical means you eat and sleep all the time and tend to gain weight. Typical means you have trouble eating and sleeping and tend to lose weight. Atypical depression can respond very well to light therapy. Hope it works for you!

The link:
posted by skidoom at 7:04 AM on November 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

I have the blue go-light one. I don't use it anymore because it just makes me feel sick like I drank too much coffee without actually combatting my SAD effects.
posted by bquarters at 8:02 AM on November 18, 2013

it just makes me feel sick

I use this little travel model. It's 10,000, and has a timer to turn off, but not turn on. Like bquarters, I find it pretty stimulating, and it can make me feel a little loopy at my desk. I think I started with 15 minute sessions and then worked up to longer--it made my stomach do flips!

The instructions for that model say to put it in your peripheral vision, not above you.

This may be a case of the best being the enemy of the good--between wake up and overhead mounting and travel size, you've got a few requirements that seem incompatible. I'd just get the one I linked (or a similar model) and try it out, so that you can get the benefits sooner rather than later.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 8:13 AM on November 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

I have a daylight sky which I've found to be a great help with depressive episodes similar to those of skidoon, I've owned it since 2009 and have had no problems. One thing I do sometimes when I'm not feeling great, is I put the lamp on a timer to help me wake up. Importantly the lamp is on my desk, which is around 5 feet from my bed, not as elegant as a dawn simulator but I find it really helps. My former psychiatrist recommended Northern light sad lamps, which are pricy but they do have a travel visit which may work well for you.
posted by Harpocrates at 8:20 AM on November 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

I made my own because the commercial ones were too expensive. I did some research on the type of bulbs used in commercial light boxes, and the specific color ranges that were best, and the number of LUX needed to be effective, etc.

I found ONE model of halogen floodlamp at Home Depot with the right specs. It is great, and only cost me $40.

It does not have a gradual setting, but if you just set your alarm and turn it on when the alarm goes off, you can be flooded with sunlight in the early am. If you know anything about wiring, you could probably put a dimmer on the power cord yourself...?

One thing my psychiatrist said is that WHEN you use it is important. I have mine at my office, and I was using it for an hour or so in the mid-morning because that was most convenient for me. He said that what you need to do is trick your brain into thinking the day is longer, so either use it in the early am (like it sounds you want to ) or after the sun starts to set.
posted by SarahBellum at 8:42 AM on November 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

If you have trouble waking up in the morning, you should be good just setting it up on a power switch timer, to turn on about 20 minutes before your alarm goes off.

The light doesn't wake me up fully, but it meant I would actually wake up when the alarm went off.
posted by Elysum at 3:23 PM on November 18, 2013

I have the goLite, and I found it to be helpful. I haven't heard the thing about having the light come from overhead. With the goLite you put it to the side and you don't look directly at it. The main effect for me seems to be feeling more awake (I use it in the morning while I'm drinking coffee and checking my email) and staying awake through the whole day.

You can buy an alarm clock with a light that will gradually get brighter, e.g., Light Alarm Clock or this one. I have friend who uses one (not either of these models, but similar) and she finds it very helpful.
posted by tuesdayschild at 5:08 PM on November 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

I have this one and really, really love it. It has great reviews on Amazon, and the negative ones are largely from people who have not bothered to read the 4-page user's manual and adjust the settings. It is an LED but can get extremely bright (with a nice warm light), very dim, and everything in between, and has little birdie sounds as well.

I got mine at Costco (currently $30 off) so I could return it if I didn't like it, and this puppy is for keeps. It's heavy -- not a travel model for sure, but for home I use it to wake up, in the morning for SAD therapy, and it has a go to sleep function, too, which lets the room get gradually darker. This is great for transitioning from artificial lighting into bedtime. It is not cheap by any means, but is extremely well-designed and sturdy.
posted by ravioli at 5:34 PM on November 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

SarahBellum, what's the bulb you used?
posted by dogrose at 5:55 PM on November 18, 2013

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