Does full spectrum lighting help seasonal depression?

The days are getting shorter and our time under natural sunlight every day is greatly diminishing. For some of us, this time of the year is nostalgic and cozy, yet for many others, 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 from slight to extreme, but many of us will feel the effects of less time under the sun. Today we thought we’d set out to answer a question we get asked a lot 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

  • Having sleep problems

  • Having 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). A full spectrum light bulb is a light bulb like any other in that it may be used without restrictions, but the light emitted is pure, beautiful, and more pleasant to live and work under.

A light therapy box provides striking white light using fluorescent or other bulbs in a color temperature between 5000-6500K (average color temperatures of the sun at noon), consisting of bluer, more energetic wavelengths. These boxes produce very powerful light, and are meant therefore as therapy - not as a source for general illumination. The goal is to sit in front of a box for up to 30 minutes per day, to allow your eyes and body to receive a simulation of sunlight it would otherwise not receive during 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 the complement to therapeutic doses of bright light therapy. Full spectrum light bulbs on their own make us feel better due to their superior color and making spaces look more pleasant, but that is one part of the puzzle towards feeling better during these times of the year. If you suffer from any of the above symptoms of SAD, or generally don’t feel like yourself around this time of the year, you’ll need to supplement with a bright light therapy box to help eradicate those feelings. 

Final thoughts

Everyone can benefit from the stimulating effects of bright light therapy, not just those clinically diagnosed with Seasonal Affective Disorder. Grab yourself our medical-grade Aurora bright light therapy system, made of sturdy aluminum and a perfect desk or kitchen counter companion during these darker months. If you travel to an office, or just generally are on the move a lot, you might love the HappyMood Mini light therapy pad for portable light therapy with adjustable levels.

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 a bright light therapy system, you may just start to see winter in a whole different light! 

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