Years ago, before I heard of light therapy lamps, I had been living in northern California during the winter. It was a place that was very different from where I had grown up. Fog blanketed the land in the mornings, and it was always cloudy in the afternoon.
Some mornings I’d have to drive 35 miles or so with not being able to see to the end of the hood on my car. During the afternoon, the fog would burn off. Driving wouldn’t be so scary, but you still couldn’t see the sun, never mind, have a little warm sunshine on your skin.
Even though I had grown up in Arizona, I got used to it. I went to work at the newspaper every day. Every night I came home. This went on for weeks.
One weekend, I had some time off. My wife and I decided to take the day off and go to San Francisco. It was only 90 miles or so away from where we lived.
I’ll never forget the bright feeling I felt coming out of the inland fog. At the end of the Golden Gate bridge lay San Francisco. My mood instantly elevated. Had you told me I was affected by seasonal affective disorder, I would have doubted you. You get used to feeling a certain way.
How do light therapy lamps work?
Also known as SAD lamps (SAD as in seasonal affective disorder), light therapy lamps act like the sun.
Well, maybe not entirely. They don’t put off heat, for example, and won’t make you warm during the winter. Instead, what they do is put off light in the same spectrum as the sun without ultraviolet and blue light. Ultraviolet and blue light is outside of the visible spectrum and is the one that can damage the skin. You don’t need that kind to make vitamin D or to experience the mood benefits of the sun.
You make some of your drugs and vitamins, like serotonin. Put another way; a SAD lamp is a drug-free drug. It can help regulate your circadian rhythm and put you back on track.
How to use a SAD lamp
Back in the day, you might have had to drive 90 miles or even further to experience the benefits of sunshine. Either that, or get lucky and happen to be outside when the clouds parted and the sun shined through.
Either way, you’d feel better almost immediately.
There’s no need to sit underneath a SAD lamp for hours and hours when it’s cloudy outside. Between 30 minutes and an hour will be enough time to do the trick.
The key is consistently using a SAD lamp when there’s little to no sun.
If you’re going to be outside during the day and it’s clear or partly cloudy, you could skip the SAD lamp session.
The best place to put your sad lamp is where it’s most convenient for you to use. One common place is the bathroom, and turn it on when you’re getting ready in the morning. You can experiment and see if the 15 minutes to 30 minutes it takes is enough time for you to get enough effect.
Most people get at least some sun during the day, but it can be unpredictable. Some places, sometimes, are completely clouded over for days on end. If you’re not feeling enough of a change in your SAD symptoms, you can try putting it somewhere you work on your computer or watch TV–anywhere you might spend more than 30 to one hour.
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