SAD is correlated to a lack of exposure to sunlight. It is common during winter months, and is often called “the winter blues” in less severe cases. People who live in geographic regions without a lot of sunlight are also prone to develop SAD.
Given that symptoms of the disorder result from sunlight deprivation, many treatments for SAD include light therapy. There are various methods for conducting light therapy, but fighting off winter depression can be as easy as changes to a home’s lighting.
What SAD is
According to The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, SAD is a mood disorder characterized by depression that correlates to a certain time of year. In most cases, the related season is winter.
“However, SAD is often not described as a separate mood disorder but as a ‘specifier,’ referring to the seasonal pattern of major depressive episodes that can occur within major depression and manic depression,” the Wexner Medical Center stated.
Sunlight deprivation affects chemicals in the brain that are released to regulate positive emotions. Without enough light, those chemicals are not as active.
There are two types of SAD. Spring-onset SAD occurs in late spring/early summer, and fall-onset begins in late fall/early winter. Symptoms include irritability, fatigue, low concentration, low sex drive, more daytime drowsiness and increased sleep, trouble thinking clearly and an increase in appetite.
Onset is more common in adulthood, and women have more risk than men, as they are four times more likely to have the disorder.
It is fairly common in the U.S. and around the world. Nationally, anywhere between 10 and 20 percent of the population has the winter blues and 5 percent have a more serious case.
Various treatments options exist. Antidepressant medication and psychotherapy are available choices. Others are natural, such as exercise and light exposure.
Exposure to ambient light is often used as a treatment for SAD.
The goal of light therapy is to deliver light to the retina, which has cells that connect to the hypothalamus, according to Harvard Health Publications. It is the job of the hypothalamus to aid with regulation of the body’s circadian rhythm. Exciting activity in the hypothalamus restores balance to a person’s rhythms and corrects the effects of SAD.
During the winter months, there is a lot of overcast weather. Sometimes, the sun is not visible for days. Additionally, some people are located in places that do not receive a lot of sunlight during certain times in the year. Due to the planet’s rotation and axis, the sun takes a shorter trip across the sky and does not break the horizon.
Light therapy makes up for ultraviolet exposure deficiencies by delivering large amounts of illumination through a light box.
“These boxes provide 10,000 lux (“lux” is a measure of light intensity),” stated Michael Craig Miller, senior editor, Mental Health Publishing, Harvard Health Publications. “That’s about 100 times brighter than usual indoor lighting; a bright sunny day is 50,000 lux or more. You need to have your eyes open, but don’t look at the light. Many people use the time to read a newspaper, book, or magazine, or catch up on work.”
Even though light therapy is a leading treatment for SAD, it is not appropriate for everyone, as bright light can have adverse effects on some people. Researchers, however, are working on new methods such as the use of sunlight dimming and blue light to provide options for all patients.
Innovative light treatments
Given the prevalence of SAD, many people have found innovative ways to incorporate light therapy into various settings.
King 5 News reports that a bar in Portland, Ore., Lightbar, has incorporated the use of color-changing LEDs to provide light therapy to patrons while they sip a cocktail or a coffee. There is a wall of colored LEDs and visitors can check out different lights to see what works best for them. The owner, Alex Carson, responded to a demand for some kind of bright alternative to the low levels of sunlight during Portland’s winters.
In Norway, two designers, Lisa Pacini and Christine Istad, have created a sculpture called “Traveling Sun.” It is a disc with a 3 meter diameter and color-changing LEDs. The lights blend together to mimic the many hues of the sun and deliver mobile light therapy to Norwegian towns. It travels on a truck or boat, and at times it is even secured to the side of a building. The nation’s geographic location causes severe sunlight deficiencies during winter, but Pacini and Istad put their creative minds together to bring out the sun at any time.
According to Gizmodo, some hospitals have begun incorporating light therapy in their intensive care patients’ rooms. Lighting is installed to mimic daylight and display media. The result is less stress for patients in the ICU, which reduces the chance of a patient slipping into shock.
Choosing the best light
The short of all this information is that the best light for combating SAD is light that closely mirrors natural ambient light.
All light has a color temperature. Higher color temperatures have cool, white light that is closer to sunlight. Lower color temperatures have warmer, yellow light. People who are experiencing symptoms of the winter blues or SAD can lean more toward lighting with higher color temperatures if they are looking to get some light therapy at home without renting a light box.
Ceramic metal halide and LED lighting provide the most color temperature options among illumination sources.
As mentioned earlier, blue light is also seeing a lot of use for combating weather-related depression. According to The Huffington Post, the installation of blue light on train platforms in Japan was beneficial for lowering the number of suicides at train stations. During a period of overcast and stormy weather, rates had increased because of the absence of sunlight. Researchers who studied the trend suggested that exposure to blue or bright white light would aid in improving the mood of commuters.
Elder care solutions, Lighting technology
Many homeowners are familiar with dimmer switches, but lighting controls have come a long way beyond those simple devices in recent years.
In addition to the dimmers, there are also timers that can be plugged into an outlet to automatically operate your table reading lamps and photosensor attachments that can be screwed into those lamps to have the lights turn on when the sun goes down. While these devices are still effective, technology has advanced to provide further ease for controlling the lighting in your home.
Modern residential lighting controls have many benefits for both financial and visual reasons. Here’s an overview of how they can be advantageous for your home:
Upgrading the classics
To be clear, modern lighting controls aren’t going to operate your dishwasher or turn on your television. They essentially serve the same functions but in a more advanced way.
Much of their improvement is due to the widespread use of more energy efficient lighting. Traditional dimmer switches, for instance, are not compatible with newer bulbs. Yet, federal regulations regarding the manufacture of incandescent bulbs is gradually phasing out their production, and with more consumers turning to compact fluorescent and LED lighting, a compatible device was needed.
New systems can still be used for dimming and include timer and photosensing functions. However, they tend to be integrated into the home or work wirelessly rather than being tied to a single fixture or floor lamp. Many products incorporate all three functions and allow you to create separate profiles for certain lighting conditions. If, for example, you want all of the lights in your kitchen to turn on just before you get home from work at 5 p.m., you can program the controls to do so.
Similarly, you can create a separate profile if you want your lights to dim during the day or gradually become less bright around the time you go to bed.
Often, timers and photosensors serve for more than convenience. If you are out of town for a week, you might use these lighting controls to turn on your lights in the evening and deter burglars. Home lighting controls can even include motion sensors that can alert you if someone is in your home. If you were, for instance, to come home in the evening and your bedroom light is on but no one is supposed to be home, you can contact the necessary authorities prior to entering the residence.
The same can be true if you are home and you think someone may have entered your house during the night.
Wellness and energy benefits
Many home lighting control systems can be paired with automatic shades in your home. When the photosensors detect sunlight, the shades can pull up while the lights dim simultaneously.
In regard to your health, having this feature can help with regulating your circadian rhythm. Many people unknowingly suffer from circadian disruption because they’re not getting adequate amounts of sunlight. This can lead to serious physiological and mental conditions, including heart disease, mood disorders and weight gain. With automatic daylighting, you can ensure that you get some sunlight in your home each day without having to think about it.
Even though dimming isn’t a new benefit of contemporary lighting controls, it is still useful for ensuring you have the right light for every task. Some activities require less light than others, and, when working in a multipurpose space, having the ability to adjust the brightness of your lighting is a key advantage for your visual health.
Lighting controls can also help you save money on your energy costs. Rather than needing to manually turn your lights on and off depending on their usage, the controls can automatically activate them only when needed, lowering your electric bill.
While the amount of light you have in a room is mostly due to personal preference, there are some recommended brightness levels for different rooms.
Having optimal brightness is not solely for visual purposes. It is integral for preventing eye strain and ensuring your light conditions accommodate your visual needs. Determining the brightness required for a room is not as easy as plugging in floor reading lamps until you’re satisfied. With a simple calculation and slight adjustments, you can get the perfect amount of illumination.
Talking about brightness
Like other light quality metrics, such as correlated color temperature and color rendering, brightness has its own unit of measurement. In the U.S., the light emitted from your bedside reading lamps, pendant fixtures or any other source is often denoted using foot candles. This unit tells you how bright a light is one foot from the bulb. In recent years, however, lighting industry experts are more often using the measurement known as lumens for consumer-facing materials. Although lumens and foot candles may seem similar, they are actually different.
Given that you’re more likely see the number of lumens on bulb packaging, let’s focus on that measurement. Keep in mind, however, that foot candles are important for determining how many lumens you need in a room, as one foot candle equals one lumen per square foot.
Break out the tape measure
The brightness you need in a room varies both by the tasks completed there and the size of the room. Yet, knowing the latter can give you a good idea of how many lumens you need prior to considering how the space is utilized. For instance, you likely spend more time reading in your office than your in kitchen, which means there should be more light where you work.
Start by figuring out the square footage of each of your rooms. Use a tape measure to note the length and width and be sure to account for irregularly shaped rooms. Once you have the measurements, you can calculate the lumens needed to completely illuminate the room.
Grab a calculator
With a few reference measurements for foot candle needs for different rooms, you can use your room measurements to calculate the lumens required.
Bathrooms and above kitchen stoves and sinks (70 to 80 foot candles)
General kitchen lighting and dining rooms (30 to 40)
Bedrooms and living rooms (10 to 20)
Hallways (5 to 10)
Next, multiply the square footage of the room by the foot candles required and you’ll have the lumens necessary to adequately light the room. Don’t forget that your calculations may not provide optimal brightness, as room configurations, furniture and other factors can affect the ambient light levels in your rooms.
A note about equivalencies
As more incandescent bulbs are phased out of production, you may also see more lighting product packaging have information about brightness equivalencies, particularly on more energy efficient products like compact fluorescent and LED bulbs. Usually, this information references lumens per watt, which tells you how much brightness you get for each unit of energy. Although this may seem like an additional bit of confusing information, equivalency data simply tells you how much energy you save while getting the same brightness.
If, for example, you were considering a 13-watt CFL bulb that was said to be equivalent to a 75-watt incandescent bulb with 1150 lumens, you’ll be getting the same number of lumens while using 62 fewer watts. There are, however, always chances of inflated manufacturer claims about equivalencies, so be sure to research products to ensure you’re getting what you pay for.
Don’t forget the personal factor
Whenever selecting bulbs, keep in mind that these are general guidelines for finding the best light for your home. If you have aged-related vision problems, such as cataracts or macular degeneration, or if you simply have trouble reading, you’ll likely need more light that the average consumer. These conditions are known to require brighter light and may present additional considerations.
There are several age-related vision problems strongly tied to light, and cataracts are common among many Americans. Although the bedside reading lamps in your home are not a likely cause of this condition, your response to their light can alert you to whether you’re starting to develop cataracts.
What are cataracts?
Your eyes have a lens that is normally transparent. Cataracts, which are proteins in the lens that have formed into clumps, cloud this lens, making it harder to see clearly. As they get bigger, cataracts even inhibit the passage of light into the eye by scattering it. Vision may appear foggy or blurry as a result.
This condition typically develops gradually and most often can be managed for some time with eyeglasses and stronger lighting. Cataracts usually develop when individuals are in their 40s or 50s but don’t show noticeable effects until they enter their 60s. However, they can, over time, begin to impair normal activities such as reading and driving, leading to the need for a more permanent treatment option. If left untreated, severe cases can eventually lead to blindness.
Researchers have not found an exact cause of cataracts, but they have been able to pinpoint risk factors that can speed up the development of the condition:
Eye trauma or inflammation
Previous eye surgery
Corticosteroids and certain other medications
Family history of cataracts
Too much exposure to sunlight
Age is most often cited as the probable cause.
What are the symptoms?
There are various defining symptoms of cataracts:
Blurred or cloudy vision
Heightened sensitivity to glare
Double vision in a single eye
Trouble seeing in dim light or at night
Lower color intensity
Seeing halos around lights
Frequent changes in prescription eyeglass or contact lenses
Most often, these symptoms are not apparent until the cataracts begin to interfere with the passage of light into the eye. It should be noted that these symptoms are similar to those of other eye conditions, so it is important to consult with a doctor for a clear diagnosis. To determine whether individuals have cataracts, patients will complete a visual acuity test using the common eye chart test and have their pupils dilated so that the doctor can more closely examine their eyes.
Types of cataracts
There are various types of cataracts that affect vision in different ways:
Cortical cataracts affect the outer edge of the lens and eventually progress toward the center.
Nuclear cataracts start in the center of the lens.
Posterior subcapsular cataracts affect the back of the lens.
People who are born with cataracts have congenital cataracts.
How to prevent cataracts
In regard to the age-related variation of this condition, there are no known ways to prevent cataracts. Individuals with diabetes can lower their risk by closely monitoring and maintaining their blood sugar levels.
Treatment options for cataracts
Surgery is the only permanent treatment option for this condition. Although stronger reading lamps and new eyeglasses help, they are only a temporary solution. Once cataracts begin to noticeably impair daily activities, surgical intervention becomes necessary. Luckily, it is a low-risk operation and not often performance in response to an emergency. There are two types of surgery for treating this condition:
Extracapsular cataract extraction involves the removal of the lens. An incision is made, and a process known as phacoemulsification, or phaco, uses sound waves to break up the clouded lens. The lens is then removed using suction via a tube that is inserted through the incision.
Intracapsular cataract extraction involves the removal of the lens and the lens cap. This type of treatment is less often used.
Once the lens is removed, it is replaced by an artificial one, known as an intraocular lens, during surgery. In some cases, corrective glasses or contact lenses are used instead. Most patients use an intraocular lens.
If you have a home office where you regularly read, pay bills or complete other tasks, you need more than a bright desk lamp to illuminate your workspace.
Much like you employ various lighting solutions throughout your home to have optimal lighting conditions, you need to bring together different sources of light for your office. Numerous studies have shown that productivity is correlated to a workspace’s light as well as the ability to alter the brightness level. Given these considerations, it is important to ensure the conditions are tailored to common best practices, while of course adjusting for personal preference.
Here are a few tips on how you can get the best light in your office:
Let natural light in
Sunlight is good for much more than a trip to the beach and a day of tanning. Even indoors, getting some sun can be beneficial. Much of the research on lighting and productivity has focused on the role of natural light and how its presence in a workspace can make individuals more prepared for their workday. Due to hormonal changes regulated by our bodies’ circadian rhythms, which respond to changes in sunlight, it is important to ensure sunlight can get into your office. Compared to artificial light, natural light is always better because it provides full spectrum light.
This goal can be achieved by setting up shop in a room of your home with plenty of windows or skylights. Be certain, however, to position your desk or other work surface such that the sun doesn’t provide unwanted glare in regard to your eyes and electronic devices you are using.
Grab a lamp
Although the sun is great for supercharging your energy levels, it won’t always be an available source of light. In these cases, you have to turn to your home’s artificial lighting, and you need to know which type of light works best for the task at hand.
If you’re looking for a low-cost way to get more light while you read or complete paperwork, consider a desk or floor lamp. While you could pay to have pendent lighting installed above your workspace, doing so costs more than purchasing a lamp. Additionally, lamps are mobile, which is helpful if you like to rearrange furniture often or plan to move your office – whether to a new room or a new home.
Glare can also be an issue with lamps. To avoid this problem, refrain from placing lamps above your computer or laptop screens. Additionally, don’t place lamps in front of screens, as doing so can make it harder to see.
Examine your ambient lighting
General lighting does exactly what the title implies: It provides ambient light that can be used for generally any task. Usually, this type of lighting is supplied by ceiling fixtures. It may not provide a direct beam of light for reviewing the stack of bills on your desk, but it can be useful for giving your office some light when the sun goes down.
Invest in dimmable lighting
Whether you consider installing dimmer switches or purchasing lamps with changeable brightness levels, you’ll want to find ways to bring dimmable lighting to your home office. Productivity and lighting research has shown that individuals who have control over their work environment tend to be more productive.
The reason for this trend is that your tasks change. One day your desk may be a workspace for completing your tax forms, and another day could be devoted to reviewing your estate planning documents. You might even use your office for hobbies and crafts. No matter what you’re working on, you need to raise or lower the brightness in your office to fit your needs.
Like many of your favorite products, lightbulbs have labels to let you know exactly what you’re purchasing.
Foods include a nutrition facts label. Packaged meats, for example, have a label detailing the weight and price per pound. You look to this information to determine if one product is better for your needs than another. In the same manner, lighting facts labels are placed on bulb packaging to help you choose which product solution can best light your home.
Although health concerns have encouraged more Americans to understand the words on nutrition facts labels – such as calories, trans fat and carbohydrates – the terms on lighting facts labels are likely less understood. This is not to say that there are few resources on the subject, but people tend to spend less time discussing how to get more lumens in their home than how to reduce the calories in their daily diet.
Here’s an overview of the two types of lighting facts labels and the meaning behind their terms:
A simple label
The Federal Trade Commission of the U.S. Bureau of Consumer Protection mandates that all bulbs with a medium screw base – including incandescent, compact fluorescent and LED bulbs – is sold in a package carrying its label. These labels have been required since Jan. 1, 2012 and appear on the front and back of the packaging. Their purpose is to help consumers better understand what they are buying by imposing a standard method for manufacturers to describe their bulbs’ qualities.
The front label only has two pieces of information: lumens and estimated energy cost per year. Lumens are units of measurement for brightness. Energy costs are denoted in dollars and based on the average initial wattage, a rate of 11 cents per kilowatt and a usage rate of three hours per day.
The back label includes more details. In addition to lumens and energy costs, the rear label denotes the life of the bulb, correlated color temperature, wattage and design voltage. Bulb life is measured in years. Color temperature describes a bulb’s warmness or coolness in regard to the light’s appearance, and wattage is the amount of electricity the bulb uses. Design voltage denotes the target voltage a bulb was designed to achieve.
Products that are Energy Star qualified will also have a label showing this accolade. Additionally, products that contain mercury such as CFL bulbs have the following statement:
“Contains Mercury / For more on clean up and safe disposal, visit epa.gov/cfl.”
A more complex label
The U.S. Department of Energy had a separate lighting facts label that was formally discontinued following Jan. 1, 2012. However, many products that are lighting facts partners still use the label. Unlike the FTC label, the DOE variation was targeted at lighting professionals, as denoted by the additional information that can be found on the label. Yet, this doesn’t mean that you can’t take advantage of the expanded information when shopping for new bulbs for your floor reading lamps.
The DOE label also includes lumens per watt, color rendering index, LED lumen maintenance projection at 25,000 hours at 25 degrees Celsius ambient and whether the bulb has a warranty. Lumens per watt is simply the result of dividing total lumens by the watts. Color rendering index is a scale used to measure how accurately an artificial light source displays color compared to the sun as a reference point. LED lumen maintenance describes how the brightness of an LED bulb at a certain point in its lifespan – in this case 25,000 hours of operation – compares to the initial brightness and appears as a percentage.
Regardless which label you come across, take a few moments to read the details and make certain you’re picking the best bulb for your home.