How Light Therapy Can Give You More Energy, Ease the Winter Blues, and Improve your Sleep
Are you starting to feel worn down during the midst of winter, always tired, fatigued, hungry, and even cranky? I can tell you that I am. Even black coffee or my super charged green tea is just not cutting it anymore. I am taking my vitamin D supplements and eating well but the truth is simply – I am not getting enough daily light. In the morning I leave home and its pitch black outside and when I come out of work it’s just as dark. Well enough of this doom and gloom, we need to talk about light therapy!
Just like plants need light to grow and thrive, we need light for our overall health and well-being. Plants wither and die due to the lack of light, we too fade away.
Unfortunately many of us don’t get enough light during the shortened winter days and so we tend to feel more tired, moody, and depressed. It is no surprise many people during this time are affected by Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) or the winter blues.
Others have challenging night shift jobs that forces them to sleep during the day. When I worked the night shift at the hospital I didn’t get much light exposure, after about 6 months I was feeling pretty bad and started having problems with insomnia and anxiety. Many people struggle with this, but there are ways to help you get the light you need.
Benefits of Light Therapy
- Balances your sleep/wake cycle, helping you feel more rested and restored
- More energy during the day
- Promotes feelings of well-being
- Increases alertness and concentration
- Balances your serotonin and melatonin
- Studies show it can help with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
Possible Signs of Light Deficiency
- Irritability and moodiness
- low energy and fatigue
- Difficulty concentrating
- Mental fog
- Sleeping too much
- Feelings of sadness
- Increased appetite especially carbs
- Weight gain
Light Therapy Increases the “Feel Good” Brain Chemical Serotonin
Here’s how it works. When the retina of your eye is exposed to bright light it sends nerve signals to our central nervous system which then in turns sends messages to produce Serotonin. Serotonin, the“feel-good” brain chemical plays an important role in the regulation of mood, sleep, appetite, sexual desire, memory and learning and low levels of serotonin have been associated with sleep problems, fatigue, anxiety, and depression.(1)
Studies have shown serotonin in our bodies rise with exposure to bright light and fall with decreased light exposure. One study that measured blood levels of serotonin found that those individuals with the most light exposure had the highest serotonin levels in their blood while those with the least amount of light exposure had the lowest serotonin levels.(2) Further, the serotonin levels were lowest in the winter and higher during other seasons like summer.
Light Therapy Regulates Your Melatonin Production
Light therapy can help you sleep better at night by regulating your circadian rhythm by releasing the hormone melatonin at appropriate times during the 24 hr sleep/wake cycle.(3) Melatonin is a hormone produced by the pineal gland which promotes sleep and allows a good night’s rest. When the retina of your eye is exposed to light a signal is sent to the pineal gland in your brain and melatonin production shuts off, your body is alert and ready to perform. (3) An increase in melatonin is triggered by darkness.
People who use light therapy during the morning and early during the day have naturally increased melatonin production during the evening which helps them sleep better. Also, melatonin production shuts off when you are ready to wake up. During the winter when we are not getting enough light our circadian rhythm falls off schedule, we end up over sleeping and waking up tired and fatigued as our bodies are over secreting melatonin.
So Tell Me More About Light Therapy
Sunlight 107,527 lux
Full Daylight 10,752 lux
Overcast Day 1,075 lux
Office Room is 320
Home lighting 80-200 lux.
Average Light Therapy box 10,000 lux
The standard light intensity for therapy lamps in the industry is 10,000 lux for about 15-30 minutes. This is the illumination I use and it works perfectly for me. When I sit at the table to eat breakfast I turn on my light therapy lamp. I often sit there for about 45 minutes as I check my emails and do computer related things. This has made a big difference in my life, and I truly feel a positive effect just after three days of light therapy treatment.
Sunlight is 107,527 lux while full daylight is 10,752 lux and this is what a proper light therapy lamp duplicates. Just to give you an idea how little light we are getting at work or at home, an average office room is 320 lux and a room in a house can be 80-200 lux.
An overcast day is 1,075 lux and this is what winter is like most of the time here in Montreal. I usually go outside with my dog when I first get up for about a 20 minute walk, but at about 1,075 lux it just doesn’t cut it.
On a sunny day, I encourage you to get the full benefits of natural light because at 107,527 lux nothing beats mother nature!
Light Therapy in the Public
It is exciting to know that light therapy is being taken seriously. As of last week, two Toronto libraries are participating in a pilot project in which light therapy lamps are made available to library users free of charge.
Countries like Iceland and Sweden have realized the importance of daily light exposure and have incorporated light therapy into their schools to help students feel less tired and more alert. Students in these schools seemed to have positive experiences with the light therapy and reported an improvement in the way they felt.
“Serotonin.” International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. . Encyclopedia.com.9 Feb. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.
Lambert GWReid CKaye DMJennings GLEsler MD Effect of sunlight and season on serotonin turnover in the brain. Lancet 2002;360 (9348) 1840- 1842
Emens, Jonathan S., and Helen J. Burgess. “Effect of Light and Melatonin and Other Melatonin Receptor Agonists on Human Circadian Physiology.” Sleep medicine clinics10.4 (2015): 435–453. PMC. Web. 10 Feb. 2017.