Tag Archives: light therapy

How can I manage SAD symptoms? Part Two – dawn simulators

This is part two of ‘How can I manage SAD symptoms’, looking at another type of light therapy – dawn simulators. I’ve also discussed making the decision to invest in light therapy here.

Part one covered the main kind of light therapy that is recommended for treating Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and Winter Blues – bright light therapy, which is delivered by a SAD light. In part three, I’ll cover medication and talking therapies. Then in part four, we’ll take a look at some lifestyle strategies that I hope you’ll find helpful.

Dawn Simulators

This is Lumie’s video about dawn simulators (also known as wake up lights):

There are other manufacturers of dawn simulators, but I have only had Lumie models. I use the basic model, the Bodyclock STARTER 30. However, they have a full range that give you more functionality if you want it. I use my dawn simulator every day, even in summer. I use black-out curtains to help keep a good sleep/wake cycle.

As you can see, a dawn simulator prepares your body for waking up by gradually raising the light level in your room. The artificial sunrise provides a cue for your body to reduce production of the sleep hormone melatonin and to start gradually increasing the production of cortisol, which gives you some ‘get-up-and-go’. You might find my earlier post, ‘Why do we suffer from SAD?’ interesting too.

Dawn simulators don’t reach the same light intensity as a SAD light. Although they’re great for helping you to wake up in a more natural way, they won’t treat all of your SAD symptoms.

Do dawn simulators work?

Mary Poppins dancing and singing - maybe she used dawn simulatorsI’m not going to tell you that I leap out of bed in the depths of winter à la Mary Poppins just from using my dawn simulator alone. I’ll tell you some other things I do in the fourth part of this series which helps me. What I will say is that it is a really lovely way to wake up, feeling like you’re ready to be awake. It also means your room is light and you’re less likely to have an accident from stumbling around the room in the dark! I recommend dawn simulators to absolutely everyone, regardless of whether they suffer from SAD or not.

I honestly couldn’t go back to a traditional alarm clock now. Being shocked out of sleep in the pitch black by a wailing alarm – no thanks! In my mind, it makes no sense to wake up this way because your stress response activates. Think about it – a loud noise that rips you out of sleep… Of course your body’s going to get ready to fight or flee! It’s just not a great way to start your day, is it?

My basic model has a fixed duration sunrise, sunset and alarm features. For the sunrise, you simply set your alarm for the time you want to get up. So if you set the alarm for 6.30am, it will come on very dimly at 6.00am. It then gradually brightens over 30 minutes. Other models have adjustable time periods.

There’s a back-up beeper for peace of mind, but I usually wake a moment before it goes off. When it does, it isn’t a shock because my body’s already awake – if that makes sense? More expensive models have functionality to select the sound you wake up to.

The sunset function of the dawn simulator is nice too, allowing me to wind down and the room to gradually darken as I drop off to sleep. Zzzzzz 🙂

Investing in light therapy

Are dawn simulators and SAD lights worth the investmentI appreciate that paying around £100+ for a SAD light and another £60+ for a dawn simulator seems like a lot. Personally, I would pay many times this, for the huge difference that light therapy has made to my quality of life! Being curious what this worked out at per day, I’ve done some very rough calculations:

I recently replaced the original light box I bought when I was first diagnosed, treating myself to a more powerful Lumie Brazil. So, at £295.65 in total, my two big lights and my small LED light I use at work, have cost me about £0.12 per day. This is based on using them daily for six months over 13 years. That will continue to drop as I only bought the Brazil last year.

I also replaced my original dawn simulator a few years ago. I spent £120 over 12 years. So used every day, I have paid about £0.03 per day for my lovely wake-up lights! 😀

Will light therapy work for me?

One of the main concerns when deciding whether to buy a SAD light or dawn simulator is whether they’ll work for you. If you don’t want to buy outright, you can hire SAD lights and dawn simulators, from e.g. the SAD Shop. Or, you could buy a product direct from a manufacturer, who may give you a money-back guarantee. Lumie give you 30 days and Philips give you 28 days’ free home trial. Most people will notice their symptoms improve in around a week or two. This would give you plenty of time to see if the products are helpful for you.

Giving people an experience of light therapy was behind my reason for launching the Little Light Room events. I wanted people to be able to experience it for themselves and ask me any questions.

Given that light therapy is the first line of recommended treatment for SAD and Winter Blues, I really would encourage you to invest in at least a SAD light if you can. If light therapy works for you, you’ll be amazed by the difference it makes to your quality of life.

And if you find light therapy doesn’t work for you? Well then, firstly you have my sympathies. There are other treatments you can try, such as medication and talking therapies like Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) – look out for more on these in part three.

What’s your experience with light therapy? Have you tried a dawn simulator? Have you any tips and tricks of your own to share?

Neens 🙂

Image credits:
Mary Poppins: http://www.thefancarpet.com/uploaded_assets/images/gallery/919/Mary_Poppins_10976_Medium.jpg
Coins in hand: http://www.freeimages.com/photo/coins-in-hand-1245246 

How can I manage SAD symptoms? Part One – Light Therapy

I’ve touched on how to manage symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and Winter Blues briefly in ‘SAD basics’. As promised in that post, I’m working my way through the ‘What, Why, Who, Where, When and How’ of SAD in more detailed posts. So, this is the big ‘How’. “Finally” – I hear you say?! 😉 This first post focuses on light therapy.

This turned into a really long post, so I’ve split it into four parts, to make it more digestable – although they’re still long! I’ll add links at the end to the other parts as I post them. These posts are based on my own personal experience of living with SAD; I’ll signpost you to quality information available on the web if you want to do further reading. The resources section of the site is there too.

So you know that you suffer from either SAD or Winter Blues – now what? How do you manage the symptoms so that you can get back to being you? Or a slightly more recognisable version of you, at least? 

First the bad news, to get it over with:

There is no one universal, this-will-definitely-work-for-you treatment for SAD or Winter Blues.

You can’t permanently ‘treat’ these conditions in the traditional sense; unfortunately you can’t be cured of SAD. It is really about managing your symptoms with daily treatment when you feel you need it.

OK, so now that’s out of the way – the good news! 😀

According to the SAD Association, 85% of people will find some relief of their symptoms by using light therapy regularly.

This is usually from the onset of symptoms (any time from late August) until the time their symptoms normally disappear (for many, this is often late March/early April).

What are SAD Lights/Lamps?

hands cupping sunshine - natural light therapy is best if you can get itSAD Lights/Lamps are very bright lights that simulate the level of light you would get on a clear spring morning. They are the leading method for managing SAD symptoms.

Light is measured in lux. A minimum of 2,500 lux output is recommended for treating SAD symptoms, but a brighter 10,000 lux light will enable you to sit further away, or reduce your treatment time. The newer LED lights are often a lower intensity at 2,500 lux, but they contain more blue light, so can be as effective as a 10,000 lux light.

Normal light bulbs, or even ‘daylight bulbs’, are not strong enough to treat SAD – 2,500 lux is roughly five times brighter than a well-lit office.

How do you use light therapy lights?

You can do other activities, like reading or watching TV while you’re having your light treatment. You don’t look into the light, it just needs to reach your eyes. How close you need to sit and for how long depends on the strength of your light and how severe your symptoms are.

If you like to sit further away from your light, you’ll need a longer treatment time. The manufacturer of your light will give you an idea of typical treatment time; for example the strongest and largest lights are generally 10,000 lux and take 30 minutes at 30cm (about arm’s length).

What do I use?

I have two lights. I treated myself to a new Lumie Brazil (shown in the image) last year and I love it! It is a broad spectrum light – the first I’ve had – and it is a lovely warm-toned light. My previous light for home was daylight spectrum and a stark, blue-toned light). I have my breakfast sitting in front of it. I’ve also started practising ‘The Miracle Morning‘ recently and so I do the practices at my dining table. 

Lumie Brazil light therapy lamp

At work I have a small portable LED light for top-ups or if I have missed my morning session for whatever reason. They don’t make the one I have now; it’s been replaced with the ZestMy light sits on my desk at work and is about the size and weight of a paperback novel. What’s great about this is that I can put it away in my desk drawer when it’s not in use, and if I happen to travel somewhere, I can easily take it with me.

Before I bought this light, I did consider how I’d feel about having it on my desk, with colleagues coming to see me to discuss projects. I also wondered whether the bright light would bother my team. I needn’t have worried. The light’s quite targeted and I can always switch it off if someone comes to my desk. It’s not unusual for colleagues to be interested and ask about the light. Some have even gone and bought light therapy products off the back of these conversations. 

What alternative light therapy products are there?

You can also get light therapy in the form of a visor, so you can move around while receiving light therapy, but I’ve never used these. Also, the Valkee Brain Stimulation Headset was launched a few years ago, but I have no experience of this and the SADA committee don’t believe they work so I haven’t bothered to try. I’d be interested in hearing from anyone who has used either type of product.

How long will it take for light therapy to work?

You might need to play about a bit with light therapy before you find what works best for you. It’s really worth persevering for a little while though, trying different times of the day, different distances and length of treatment.

Most people will start to feel better (more energy, improved mood) within about two weeks, but if it takes longer than this for you, don’t worry! If you’re not finding the light therapy helpful, try calling the manufacturer for some advice.

If you still find that light therapy doesn’t work for you, try not to lose hope; your doctor will be able to recommend other treatment strategies, some of which I’ll talk about in part three.

Final advice…

It’s really important that you be as consistent as you can with your light therapy – use your light every day in the months that you normally experience symptoms. This will help keep your serotonin levels on a more even keel and, together with a few other coping strategies, you should feel much more your normal self than in previous winters.

In spring and summer, a run of dull weather can bring your symptoms on again. Don’t worry – many people experience this! It would be so nice to be able to put your light away in a cupboard for six months. Unfortunately the UK’s spring and summer months seem to be becoming wetter and so it’s worth keeping your light within easy reach.

Dog enjoying some light therapy in a sunny windowAnd of course, my final piece of advice about light therapy: try to get as much natural light as you can! I know it’s hard, but if you can get out and about you’ll feel better. If you struggle with this ask a friend or family member to give you a prod! Sit by windows if you can too – it all helps.

I hope that you will have found this post helpful, but as always, I welcome your feedback and comments. What’s your experience of light therapy? Have you tried a visor or the Valkee in-ear system; what did you think? Is there anything missing from this post that you’d like me to include?

The next part of this post will look at dawn simulators; they’re great little inventions that help get you out of your pit in the morning!

Take care

– Neens –

Image credits
Hands up: http://www.freeimages.com/photo/hands-up-1537812
Laurent: http://www.freeimages.com/photo/laurent-1373052
L
umie Brazil: http://www.lumie.com/collections/light-therapy-sad/products/brazil

SAD basics – where to start?

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and its milder form, Winter Blues (also known sometimes as Winter Depression, or medically as Sub-syndromal SAD) affects over a quarter of the UK population*. Does that surprise you? It did me! So even if you don’t suffer from one of these conditions yourself, it’s highly likely that someone close to you does. Read on to help you get up to speed with some SAD basics.

Eeyore looking sad and Tigger bouncingOne of my favourite ways to describe SAD is through these little fellas; Tigger and Eeyore. I tried out this analogy on a friend once and he loved it!

SAD is thought to be caused by a lack of light. During the late autumn and winter months, the shorter days and lack of sunlight can affect chemical levels in your brain, making you feel down, irritable, lethargic and unsociable – a bit like Eeyore. But in the spring and summer months you feel more ‘yourself’, and even in the depths of winter, a sunny day can bring out the Tigger in you! Some people even experience mania-type symptoms once spring comes round, known as Hypomania. That’s probably where everyone’s energy comes from for the big spring-clean! 😉 For a bit of fun, I found this quiz to identify which Winnie the Pooh character you’re most like – I turned out to be Kanga! 🙂 

SAD basics – the facts

SAD is a type of depression. I know some people aren’t comfortable with this description, but medically, they do sit on the same scale. What differentiates SAD from other types of depression is that it has a very definite seasonal pattern. You normally will have experienced symptoms in a particular season that disappear reliably in another season for three consecutive years before you would be diagnosed with SAD.

There are also other, rarer types of SAD that people suffer from, such as Summer SAD. This site mostly addresses Winter SAD and Winter Blues, as the most common form of the condition and the kind that I suffer from. Other tell-tale differences are that unlike ‘classic’ depression, you tend to want to sleep and eat more (usually carbs) when you suffer from SAD, whereas with ‘classic’ depression, people often lose their appetite and find it difficult to sleep. This is a very individual condition though, so it’s always worth checking any symptoms with your doctor, rather than self-diagnosing.

For interest, though, you might be wondering what are the other symptoms of SAD? Well, I mentioned some of the main ones already, but a few of the most common others include:

  • Bread with a heart cut out of the middleDisturbed sleep patterns 
  • Loss of interest in things you normally enjoy and social withdrawal
  • Craving carbohydrates and sweet foods (comfort food!)
  • Loss of libido
  • Anxiety
  • Difficulty concentrating/feeling fuzzy-minded
  • Lowered immune system in winter

Managing SAD

There isn’t a ‘cure’ for SAD or Winter Blues. However, many people can successfully manage their symptoms using light therapy. The SAD Association estimates that this will work for around 85% of sufferers. Your doctor may also recommend treatment with medication and talking therapies. 

You’d normally use light therapy daily from the onset of your symptoms, often from around September until April when the daylight hours lengthen. The treatment involves exposure to a bright SAD light that simulates the level of light you would get on a bright spring day. How long you need to use the light for depends on the severity of your symptoms and the strength of the light. 

I whole-heartedly recommend giving light therapy a go – I have managed my symptoms since being diagnosed using a SAD light and a dawn simulator, which wakes me gently with light in the morning. I recommend dawn simulators to everyone, regardless of whether or not they suffer from SAD – they’re such a lovely way to wake up! 🙂 

I hope this introduction to some SAD basics has been helpful to you. I will write some more in-depth posts, but if you want more information on SAD and Winter Blues before then, please have a look at this NHS page and SADA’s website.

If you’re able to attend events in Newcastle upon Tyne, you can get a taste of what light therapy is all about at Little Light Room events.

What Winnie the Pooh character do you identify with? Is there something in particular that you’d like me to cover in a future post?

Take care!

-Neens x-

*http://www.theweathercompany.com/SAD%20research%20UK

Image credits:
Tigger and Eeyore: http://www.chicagonow.com/cheaper-than-therapy/2013/11/are-you-a-tigger-or-a-eeyore/
Bread: http://www.freeimages.com/photo/love-food-1306422