If you live in Ohio, you’re probably no stranger to the winter blues brought on by overcast skies and temperatures hovering near freezing.
You may notice a decline in energy levels and a shift in your mood over the winter months. This year, I decided to try out light therapy to combat the negative effects of a gloomy winter.
I ordered a light therapy lamp— a tablet-sized device that boasts a variety of health benefits including improved sleep, mood, focus and energy. The lamp is traditionally used to combat sunlight deprivation during winter months, but it can also aid in recovering from jet lag, although I have yet to test that theory.
I turn on the lamp first thing each morning as an added pick-me-up to pair with my morning coffee, typically keeping busy with homework or reading during each 30-minute light therapy session. Others may choose to do yoga or gently stretch during their session.
The device, my newest desk accessory, casts 10,000 lux of light onto my face from its resting place next to my laptop. The screen emits little to no UV, so you won’t get a sunburn (or even a tan, unfortunately).
Most health-improvement behaviors must be practiced for a while before any improvements are noticeable (think exercising, revamping your diet, etc.), but the effects of the light therapy lamp were pretty much immediately evident. The first morning I tried it out, I left my dorm with a newfound spring in my step.
The energy and mood boosts following therapy last for a few hours and I didn’t feel any type of crash from the effects wearing off. (As an avid coffee drinker, I’m not one to bash caffeine, but a caffeine-crash can leave you feeling rather poor.) I’d say the sensation I got after light therapy was much like returning from an invigorating morning walk, except it didn’t require me to risk it all on the icy campus sidewalks.
In addition to using the lamp first thing in the morning, I usually grab a few extra minutes around lunchtime (an especially sleepy time of the day) instead of turning to another cup of coffee to re-energize. If you find it impossible to nap during the day, as I do, light therapy may be the perfect alternative.
The best aspect of the therapy is that it can be used whenever you feel it’s necessary. Typical health-improvement behaviors require consistency— going to the gym every day, avoiding those tempting carbs at every meal and so on.
However, light therapy does not require the same level of commitment. If you wake up feeling well enough to skip your session, or you forget, there’s no harm done. The same benefits will be there whenever you sit down for your next session, regardless of the time that may have lapsed.
Light therapy lamps can be particularly useful for those who suffer from seasonal affective disorder (appropriately coined SAD), which is a type of depression that is felt the strongest during the fall and winter. Light therapy is not officially FDA approved for the treatment of SAD, so it’s important to talk with your doctor to understand if light therapy is a viable treatment option, according to the Mayo Clinic website.
All in all, I’ve found light therapy to be a worthwhile addition to my winter wellness routine. Combining the therapy with exercise and other general self-care practices is a great method for staving off those winter blues.