Use A Sun Lamp

Sun lamps mimic the real thing.

Sun lamps simulate the light from the sun, typically with a balanced spectrum of fluorescent light. When used properly, they can be an effective treatment for Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), depression that occurs due to lack of sunlight in the winter. Before diagnosing and treating yourself, contact a qualified health-care professional.

How Sun Lamps Work

People susceptible to SAD can experience depression in winter, in overcast climates or if they work in windowless environments. The lack of natural light can cause an imbalance in your internal clock. Sun lamps make up for the lack of natural sunlight by providing a specific amount of balanced spectrum light. This “fake” sunlight results in an increase in the neurotransmitter serotonin, which affects feelings of happiness and well-being. It also results in the suppression of melatonin, a hormone that regulates sleeping patterns.

Choosing the Right Lamp

Most sun lamps are table-top versions that are plugged into a wall socket, but visor styles that operate with batteries are also available. Light intensities are measured in lux, which is a unit of illumination. The most common strength recommended for treating SAD is 2,500 to 10,000 lux.

Because you want the light to hit your face–specifically, your eyes–choose a model that can be angled toward your face or mounted on the wall at face height. If you are taking medications that may make you photosensitive, or if your eyes are sensitive to sunlight, therapy via a sun lamp may not be appropriate for you.

During Your Session

When beginning sun-lamp treatment for SAD, start your exposure when days begin to shorten in the fall. Place yourself in front of the unit for 10 to 15 minutes, two to three times a day. Keep your face toward the light source, occasionally glancing at it to get eye contact with the light. Do not wear sunglasses–it is important for your retinas to be in direct contact with the light waves.

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Because the light from a sun lamp is much brighter than a typical indoor light, you may experience eye strain. Start slow, building up to an hour per day. Continue treatment into the spring.

Monitor your exposure to see at what level and time you are achieving optimal benefits. Many SAD sufferers find it helpful to keep a journal of their symptoms and sleep habits to see when SAD tends to occur and to track how the light therapy affects their moods and sleeping rhythms.