Do Full Spectrum Light Bulbs Help With SAD?

With the shorter winter days comes less time under natural sunlight. 

For some, this time of year is nostalgic and cozy. For many others however, the time leading up to and through winter is a difficult one: some of us start to feel unmotivated, tired, and sad. Feelings may vary, but many of us will feel the effects of less time under the sun.

Today we answer an oft-asked question during this time of the year: will full spectrum light bulbs help with the winter blues? 

Let’s first define a few terms:

What are the winter blues:

The winter blues refers to Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD for short), a type of seasonal-related depression. Though most of us have a tendency towards feeling a bit more lethargic during the fall and winter months, SAD is a diagnosis in which people consistently start to display symptoms of malaise and sadness in the fall, continuing into the winter months. 

What are the symptoms of SAD? 

Common symptoms of SAD include:

  • Feeling depressed or hopeless

  • Feeling low energy, sluggish, and agitated

  • Sleep problems

  • Difficulty concentrating

What causes SAD? 

During the fall and winter, we don’t get enough of the sunlight exposure needed to stimulate the hypothalamus, a part of the brain linked to our body’s internal clocks controlling the sleep-wake schedule, among other things. Without enough bright light stimulation from the sun, our brain may increase its production of the sleep hormone melatonin, while decreasing the production of serotonin, the feel-good brain chemical that helps regulate mood.

What are full spectrum light bulbs? What is a light therapy box? Are they different?

A full spectrum light bulb emits a light spectrum that simulates the full visible light spectrum of natural sunlight (learn more about full spectrum lighting here). A full spectrum light bulb is a light bulb like any other in that it may be used without restrictions, yet it emits the full visible light spectrum our bodies need. 

A light therapy box provides striking, bright white light using fluorescent or LED light in a color temperature between 5000-6500K, which is consistent with the color temperature of the sun at noon. Light therapy boxes emit 10,000 lux (a measure of the perceived brightness of light) of white/blue, more energetic wavelengths, intended to trigger a biological response in our bodies. 

Light boxes produce very powerful light, and are therefore intended as therapy and not a source of general illumination. The goal is to sit in front of a light box for up to 30 minutes per day, allowing your eyes and body to receive a simulation of sunlight that could be difficult to receive this time of the year. 

As you can see, full spectrum light bulbs and light therapy boxes are different; use full spectrum light bulbs as you would a normal light bulb - that is for general illumination, but much more enhanced! Light therapy is precisely as its name describes - a therapy - and offers our eyes and bodies therapeutic bright doses of “sunlight” to regulate our body’s processes and start feeling like our normal selves again during these duller months.

So … will full spectrum light bulbs help with seasonal depression?

Of course, though not as prescribed by a doctor for the standalone treatment of SAD.

We like to think of full spectrum light bulbs as a complement to therapeutic doses of bright light therapy, providing us with the full spectrum of visible light our bodies need.

Note, however, that not all full spectrum lighting is made equal. Many are LED, which may not be the best lighting option when you aren't feeling 100% during the fall and winter.  

We recommend clients use incandescent, or other non LED lighting to help nurse themselves back to feelings of normalcy this time of year. Any of the bulbs from the Chromalux® incandescent line in particular can make a big difference in how you feel. The analog glow of incandescence supports our bodies and our health (and has the added benefit of nourishing infrared), while the signature neodymium-compounded glass filters light in a purifying and soothing way - unlike any ordinary light bulb. 

Final thoughts

If you suffer from the winter blues, you’ll need to supplement your mornings with a bright light therapy box to help eradicate those feelings and reset your body's internal clock. If you just feel a little dull during the winter, though perhaps not to the extent of SAD, you can still benefit from the stimulating and awakening effects of bright light therapy. 

Our medical-grade Aurora bright light therapy system is a perfect desk or kitchen counter companion during these darker months. Try the HappyMood Mini light therapy pad for portable light therapy with adjustable levels.

In addition to using a light therapy unit, we highly recommend swapping your home lighting to either Chromalux® Full Spectrum Incandescent or Chromalux® Full Spectrum Enhanced light bulbs. These bulbs offer a unique combination of purity and color balance, in addition to bringing you a non-LED, nourishing, incandescent glow that supports your well-being. And if you can't swap out all your light bulbs, at least consider using the above in places where you use light in close proximity: i.e., a bedside table lamp, or a floor lamp by the couch. Light is like a vitamin: you want to make sure what you take in is of high quality and useful for your body. Make the light that's closest to you count!

It’s also worth mentioning that sometimes, our sadness is programmed into us around this time of the year. You may start feeling relief from just shifting your focus during this time of the year to feelings of renewal and nourishment. Armed with a different mindset and healthy lighting, you may just start to see winter in a whole different light! 

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