Brighten your outlook with light therapy

A home lit with incandescent bulbs emits 50 to 100 luxes, a well-lit office with ordinary fluorescent bulbs emits about 400 luxes, but a full-spectrum fluorescent bulb emits 2,500 to 10,000 luxes.

by Wayne H. Purdin — 

Scientists have a knack for discovering what people intuitively already know. One such discovery is that bright light improves our moods and lack of sunlight, for extended periods of time, causes depression.

Lack of sunlight might not be a problem for Arizonans, but in some parts of the country, it can cause the winter blues or the more serious seasonal affective disorder (SAD). An effective treatment for SAD is to sit near bright full-spectrum lights for several minutes each day. Incandescent bulbs and ordinary fluorescent bulbs don’t have enough brightness to be effective. Brightness is measured as lux, which is the number of lumens per square meter. The greater the lux number, the brighter the light source.

A home lit with incandescent bulbs emits 50 to 100 luxes, a well-lit office with ordinary fluorescent bulbs emits about 400 luxes, but a full-spectrum fluorescent bulb emits 2,500 to 10,000 luxes. However, an even more effective treatment, and one that is more aesthetically pleasing and cost-free, is to gaze at the sunrise or sunset every day. At these times, the atmosphere filters out the harmful UV rays but allows enough of the sun’s brilliance (10,000 luxes) through to dissolve our mental fog.

Light therapy, or phototherapy with full-spectrum lights, has been shown in dozens of studies to be comparable to antidepressant drug therapy for mood disorders, even for patients suffering from other forms of depression besides SAD. However, the benefits are temporary and may cause macular degeneration, which is a gradual loss of vision in the center of the field of vision due to damage to the retina.

Sun gazing is the best form of phototherapy because sunlight contains so much more than light from a bulb. Its benefits are permanent, and it doesn’t cause macular degeneration. It transforms our darkness into light.

To put it scientifically, sunlight causes the pineal gland to convert the hormone melatonin into serotonin, which helps us maintain a positive mood. Melatonin is formed in the brain during darkness and dulls the mind, which is good because we need this to fall asleep at night. But too much melatonin causes depression.

So to avoid the blues, make sure you get enough golden sunshine. That may sound like a given for people living in a sunshine state, but you’d be surprised at how many Arizonans suffer from sunlight deficiency. Many stay in their homes and offices, with their windows covered by curtains, blinds or sunshades; they then walk outside wearing sunglasses and drive around in cars with tinted windows.

Another advantage of gazing at the sunrise is that it immediately converts the melatonin, from which you are still groggy in the morning, into serotonin, which makes you bright-eyed and ready for action. So instead of the usual morning cup of coffee, try a cup of sunshine.

 

Wayne Purdin, director of the Sun Center of Phoenix, is a lecturer and author of The SOLution: Laying the Foundation for a Solar Civilization. He is the editor of The Sun Gazette newsletter. 623-780-0261, www.suncenterofphoenix.com or wpurdin@gmail.com.

Reprinted from AzNetNews, Volume 28, Number 1, Feb/Mar 2009.

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