Now that Daylight Saving Time has ended, the days are getting shorter and the reduction in natural daylight makes many feel glum. For those who suffer from seasonal affective disorder, the symptoms of depression are more acute at this time of year. According to the American Lighting Association (ALA), there are some things homeowners can do to counteract the effects of SAD.
Consumers might have seen light boxes promoted as a solution. However, using a light box is not a do-it-yourself project.
“It’s easy to use the light boxes improperly,” said Terry McGowan, director of engineering and technology for the ALA. “Light therapy — just like any other drug or treatment regimen — should be prescribed by a physician. Part of that light prescription will involve how much light, when it’s to be provided, and for how long."
A report by the Lighting Research Center in New York makes it clear that people need bright days and dark nights.
“A daily walk in bright morning daylight or sitting near a window with daylight streaming in is far better and less expensive than a light box which may or may not work,” said McGowan, pointing out that not all light boxes offered on the market are effective. Like any product, there are differences in quality and effectiveness.
McGowan’s research and concern about combating the symptoms of SAD are personal as well as professional.
“My wife is affected by SAD,” he said. “We happen to live in northern Ohio, which has many cloudy days and weeks of gloomy weather during November and December. In the dining room and kitchen, the use of indirect lighting brightens the room on a gloomy day outside and supplements the daylight through skylights and large windows. At night, the indirect lighting is turned off and a series of accent lights plus table and floor lamps are used to illuminate the task areas, table and artwork.”
For people who do not have the clinical diagnosis of SAD, but wish to fight that gloomy feeling in the winter months, McGowan recommends setting up a light room that is designed to be especially bright and cheerful.
“Since the human circadian systems needs a ‘dose’ of light in the morning, such a room — or perhaps part of a room — could be the breakfast area," McGowan said. “However, in the morning hours, natural daylight is key. You cannot get a proper morning ‘light dose’ with just table lamps alone. They would be way too glaring and don’t generate enough light — even with bigger bulbs.”
In addition to natural light, there are some options in light bulb use that can help.
Brian Creeley, director of residential sales for light bulb manufacturer Bulbrite, suggests switching from standard incandescent bulbs to versions that mimic the effects of “full-spectrum lighting, leaving you with lighting that has the same effect that you get from sunlight.” These specialty bulbs are available at ALA-member stores.
If an existing home does not have a lot of natural daylight, McGowan offers these tips for making rooms brighter and more cheerful:
- Maximize any available morning daylight.
- Use light colors for room surfaces.
- Use high-reflectance white paint for the ceiling.
- Incorporate an indirect light source into your room.
- Use accent and spot lights — perhaps from track or cable lighting — to add bright accents on plants, decorations or feature areas. The effect will be similar to sunshine and shadows.