Most of Us Are Light Deprived

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by Marsha Stopa

This is the second article in the Bright Light series.

Most of us live most of our lives indoors. That means most of us, even in sunnier climates, are “light deprived.”

Since I learned I have seasonal affective disorder, I fantasize about living in a more temperate, sunny place like San Diego. Get this: Even the people who live there live indoors.

All light is not equal

In one study in San Diego, often ranked as the sunniest place in the United States, Dr. Dan Kripke and his research team tracked the sun exposure of a randomly selected group of 150 middle-aged adults.

Despite the near perfect weather in August when the study began, only half the group spent 58 minutes outside per day. Those who received the least direct sun exposure got 13 minutes of daily sun.

Thirteen minutes of daily sun. That’s about the total of walking from your house to your car to your office and back again.

The average 12-hour exposure for this study group was less than 100 lux  (a measurement of light intensity). A sunny day, by comparison, can reach up to 100,000 lux, or more than 1,000 times more.

Why we need our personal sunshine

So, in sunny San Diego folks are getting only the typical amount of light they’d get in their living rooms. How much light do you think you’re getting?

This little chart will give you a better perspective.

  • Streetlight – 10-20 lux
  • Typical living room light – 100 lux
  • Office flourescent light – 300-500 lux
  • Halogen lamp – 750 lux
  • Daylight,  1 hour before sunset – 1,000 lux
  • Daylight, cloudy sky – 5,000 lux
  • Daylight, clear sky – 10,000 lux
  • Bright sunshine – 20,000 – 100,000 lux

The moral of this chart? Not all light is created equal. And looking at bright sunshine through a window is not the same as getting that light directly into your eyes.

Millions suffer and don’t know it

Most research that tries to pinpoint where SAD afflicts people the most draw a line at about Washington, D.C., (38º latitude) and say most people with SAD live north of that line. But if people in San Diego are getting less than an hour a day of sunlight, light deprivation may be far more widespread than we think.

Many likely attribute feeling lousy to just disliking the season. So congratulations on taking the time to do research to get out from under this wet, gray blanket that weighs you down! Now that you know, now you’re ready to learn what to do about it.

Bashing winter bonds people

Google “winter blues” today and you’ll find lots of bloggers sighing and complaining about winter. Of course, that’s nothing new.

Suffering through winter has been a huge source of material for poets, writers and artists for centuries. Literature is full of the winter woes of gifted writers, who put pen to paper to help relieve their melancholy.

While misery loves company, ranting and complaining about how bad winter makes us feel does little to solve the essential problem: Not enough bright light.

The 80 % solution

Light therapy helps 8 out of 10 people who use it consistently.

That’s a fabulous success ratio for any treatment. While light therapy may be new to you right now, it’s been around for more than 25 years as the standard treatment.

If you have a milder case of the winter blues or SAD, it may be the only treatment you need. Seriously.

It gets better. You don’t have to wait long to find out if light therapy is working. While it may take up to two weeks for some people to feel the full effect of light therapy, many people will respond within three to four days.

You’ll feel your energy and pep starting to return. You won’t feel so dead-tired in the afternoon, or may not feel tired at all. You’ll likely sleep better and awaken easier.

You’ll feel like socializing. Your interest in sex won’t be far behind. And looking out the window at a bleak gray cityscape or landscape won’t seem so dismal.

Even better: Money back guarantees

Here’s the best part: Reputable light box manufacturers know how well light therapy works and offer a 30- to 60-day money back guarantee. If it doesn’t work for you, return the light. You’ll be out the cost of shipping, and maybe a restocking fee,  if you buy it online or from authorized distributors.

Chances are it will cost you less than a dinner out to try light therapy for a month. What do you have to lose, except maybe the blues?

I am an unashamed advocate of light therapy. I believe MOST people, unless you work outside for a living, can benefit from more bright light and safe sun exposure.

If you enjoyed this article, you may enjoy the rest of the Bright Light series:

Ready to go shopping for a light box? Ready to take charge of your winters?  Click here to get the  Light Therapy Lamp Guide to help you shop by brand and the winter guide, Your 8 Step Plan to Stopping the Winter Blues, a 37-page ebook that lays out the pieces of the winter blues puzzle.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Mary @ Fit and Fed January 11, 2013

I know it can be hard to get enough light here in Seattle, but in San Diego? These folks don’t need a NordicTrak and a light box, they just need to step outside and take a walk around the block. Amazing that the folks there got so little light. Then again, so many people get no exercise at all, either, so I guess I should stop being surprised by the sedentary, indoor nature of modern life.
Mary @ Fit and Fed´s last blog post ..Keeping Away the Gloom of Northwest Winter

2 Marsha Stopa January 12, 2013

You’re so right. And apparently sunny San Diego is changing with the effects of smog etc.

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