Dear Jim: I really suffer from the “winter blues.” My hospital suggested getting a light therapy box to use each day at home. Do these kits require special wiring and do they use a lot of electricity? — Karen H.
Dear Karen: What you are referring to is often called Seasonal Affective Disorder. Millions of people suffer every winter (even in Southern climates) with fatigue, craving sweets, weight gain, difficulty waking, irritability, etc. due to SAD.
Always check with your physician before trying any self-treatments. SAD is often treated with 30-minute, high-intensity light therapy sessions as your hospital suggested. My local hospital has a light therapy room.
There are many designs of home-use SAD light therapy kits. The most efficient ones have special high-intensity fluorescent tubes so they use only about 150 watts of electricity. They consume less than 1 cent of electricity per day. There’s no special wiring — just plug them in.
Most light therapy kits claim a brightness of 10,000 lux. A sunny day at noon is about 90,000 lux and a typical room is only 500 to 1,000 lux. Lux level (brightness) drops the farther you are away from the light source.
The best light therapy kits are powerful enough to provide 10,000 lux up to 24 inches away. Lower quality models require you to sit inconveniently close to get the full 10,000 lux brightness.
Although 10,000 lux sounds extreme, it is a quite comfortable brightness level. People often put the light box near the kitchen table, have breakfast and read the newspaper (hopefully my column) during their 30-minute session.
Most kits use a shallow rectangular box with a clear plastic cover. This cover diffuses the light and blocks the ultraviolet rays. Some are made of beautiful natural oak with matching stands. Others weigh only 10 pounds and include a carrying case.
If you must move around, there is a “light visor” model powered by rechargeable batteries. You wear it like a sun visor. It produces 5,000 lux brightness (2,500 lux is considered the minimum effective level).
Another efficient mood lighting device is a realistic-looking lighted window kit with changeable scenes. Hang it on a wall and plug it in. Although its light is not as intense, it brightens a room and gives a true spring feeling.
Dusk/dawn lighting controls simulate natural spring/summer light cycles. Programmable models are available for your bedroom. There are also “alarm clock” light models that gradually brighten to simulate a sunrise to wake you. For heavy sleepers, they also have backup audible alarms.
Write for or instant download (www.dulley.com) Update Bulletin No. 590 — buyer’s guide of 13 powerful light therapy kits, visors, window and dusk/dawn simulators, lux levels, sizes and prices. Please include $3 and a business-size SAE.
James Dulley, Bangor Daily News, 6906 Royalgreen Drive, Cincinnati, Ohio 45244.