Archive for January 2010

Dawn simulation: Review of the Lumie Bodyclock Sunray

January 27, 2010

The Lumie Bodyclock Sunray is the starter model in the Lumie dawn simulator range, and I had one five years ago.  At that time they were being sold with 60W incandescent candle bulbs with a slight lavender tinge to the glass, which counteracted the natural yellowness of incandescents to produce a whiter light.  They’re now being sold with dimmable 42W halogen candle bulbs, and quite right too.  This bulb is meant to be equivalent to 60W incandescent but in my experience is more like 75W, and produces a pleasing warm light which is a little whiter than an incandescent.  That said, the main reason why I finally sold my Bodyclock on eBay is because by the time the light is shining through the plastic shell, it was too dim for me to find it comfortable to read by.  I decided to go for a dawn simulator which could be plugged into a lamp of my choice, and am very glad that I did so as I found the extra features useful in addition to being able to use my own lamp.  Nevertheless, the Bodyclock is still a nice little all-in-one dawn simulator.

At 18 x 14 x 18cm, this is quite small for a bedside lamp.  Perhaps this is one reason why I had trouble reading by it: the light wasn’t high up enough.  It’s fairly lightweight at 730g, and to my mind feels somewhat flimsy, although it held up well enough over a year or so of occasional use.  The entire case is made of plastic and looks rather cheap, especially the top part when the light is not on.  To be honest, I’ve yet to see an all-in-one dawn simulator which is a thing of beauty, but this is definitely one of the uglier ones in the Lumie range, if that is something which bothers you.

While I found that it did its job perfectly well, I notice that a number of Amazon reviewers have had problems with the build quality or have found faults appearing.  Such sites usually have a disproportionate number of negative reviews, but this is still something to bear in mind.  I do feel that for the money you’re shelling out, the quality could be better.  I’ve always found Lumie to be very helpful and they were great when I needed to return my Desklamp, though, so I’m sure their customer service would be good if a product was faulty.

But as I said, it does the job pretty well.  You can have a sunrise or a sunset and both are preset to be 30 min, which is the most popular length of time for dawn simulation to be effective.  I don’t know how many people prefer a different length of time.  I’ve learnt that I do through long experimentation, but hey, I’m fussy.  The Bodyclock always did a perfectly good job of getting me up in the morning, and as ever with dawn simulation, it was very pleasant to wake up to.  I seem to recall that the back-up alarm sound made an acceptable enough beep, which is one advantage it has over my Sunrise System, whose beep is so horrible I turned it off.

While its simplicity gives you fewer options, it does make it very easy to use.  As far as I can remember, there was only one setting for wake-up time, as opposed to being able to set different times for each day of the week.  The clock is green numbers on a black background, which shows up fairly well without giving off as much light as a black-on-green display, and is thus less likely to disrupt sleep.  It was, as I recall, fairly easy to use as a dimmable bedside light.

This is the cheapest all-in-one dawn simulator by a reputable manufacturer that I know, and while I have several gripes about it, it’s still a very useful product and I don’t think it’s worth spending a fortune just to get something a bit prettier.  Indeed, Lumie have brought out another starter model that is the same spec and usually the same price, but looks a little better.  It’s not as if the other manufacturers have made their dawn simulators  particularly attractive anyway.  In fact, some of them look worse!  If you want more functionality, for instance being able to use more than one lamp, have a brighter light, the ability to set different wake-up times throughout the week or a different length of time for the dawn/dusk simulation, try a Sunrise System SRS100.

There’s a kids’ version of this Bodyclock which has the shapes of a moon and stars cut out, so that the light forms pretty shapes on the wall and ceiling, and which also has an optional fade-to-nightlight function.  I’ve not seen it in person, but I think that these extra touches transform something that was rather clumsy into something charming.  While I would generally recommend using yellow light bulbs for a baby’s bedroom at night, especially for night feeds, incandescent bulbs produce very little blue light when they’re set on very dim, and it’s a good compromise.  Simplicity is also important in such a setting, and I doubt that your average baby will want to tweak the settings in order to have a lie-in on weekends.

Bright light therapy: review of the Lite-Pad

January 27, 2010

This is my spare lightbox, which I picked up second-hand on eBay for a tenner.  I don’t know who the manufacturer is, but this looks like more or less the same thing.  It’s a cheap and cheerful version of a fairly standard lightbox, and while it’s my secondary one so I’ve never used it on its own for more than a few days at a stretch, it seems to do the job as well as my GoLite.  The size is about the same, although the LEDs are white rather than blue.  If anything, I think it might be a little stronger than my GoLite in effect, although perhaps I just wake up more thoroughly when I’m sewing than when I’m mooching online.  I keep it on my sewing desk, so that I have white light to sew by, and to save crawling around on the floor to unplug and move my GoLite.

There is only one brightness setting, and it’s pretty bright.  I spent the first few months using it with a blue filter taped over the top, although I don’t seem to need that now.  If you’re going to go for a filter, try a lighting gel (there’s a seller on the links page) and get one that’s blue or turquoise, since that’s the colour of light that is most important for resetting the circadian clock.  With the filter, you’ll get a very cold white light.  Without it, you’ll get a white light that is colder than standard incandescent light bulbs but would probably blend in quite well if the room lighting was fluorescent.  I haven’t had any trouble with colour matching for fabrics when quilting by this lightbox.

There are three settings for the length of time.  Pressing the On button once will put the lightbox on until you unplug it (there’s no Off button!), pressing it twice will set it for fifteen minutes, and pressing it three times will set it for thirty minutes.  There’s a little red LED by the word TIMER which flashes once for the fifteen minute setting and twice for the thirty minute setting, and continues to flash at intervals so that you know which setting you’re on.  It was months before I even noticed that it was doing this, so don’t worry that you’ll notice the red light, it’s too small and dim and you have to look at it directly to notice it.

One distinct advantage this lightbox has over my GoLite is that the stand sets it at the right angle when it is perched on a desk.  LEDs have a very narrow beam angle so you have to get them into exactly the right position, and this one is just right – at least, it is for me.  I’m short and I tend to hunch over while sewing, so it’s possible that if you’re a strapping lad or lass of over 6′ and you sit bolt upright, you might need to rest the front on a book or something to tilt it a little.  Since lightboxes are meant to be most effective when positioned above the eyes, and since my sewing desk is quite cluttered enough already, I’ve managed to hook it onto the set of stacked mini chests of drawers I keep my threads and such in, by tucking the flap which forms the stand into a drawer and then allowing the lightbox to fall forwards slightly to get the light at the right angle.  It’s been there for a few weeks and not fallen out yet!

The lightbox also has a facility for producing “soothing sounds”, presumably for relaxation or tinnitus.  They are all absolutely vile.  If you want something like that, invest in a proper tinnitus relaxer.  For the price of this lightbox, I really don’t care that this function isn’t worthwhile.  It does its job with the light, it has a basic timer function, and that’s all I really need.  It doesn’t have a clock, and it doesn’t have a display to tell you how much treatment time is left, but they’re far from essential.

It does have its quirks, this little thing.  When you first plug it in, the light flashes once very briefly, which can be a little disconcerting, and I have absolutely no idea how anyone could forget to install an Off button.  If you use a cordless or mobile phone by it, it tends to make that strange little noise that is, well, made by devices which are reacting to cordless or mobile phones.  It usually settles down after a minute, though, and I can keep my phones on the desk along with the lightbox while I sew, although I may put a little distance between them.

Since I can’t even track down who the manufacturer is, I would assume that if you buy this lightbox and it goes wrong, you’re highly unlikely to get good customer support from the manufacturer.  It generally costs £40 new, so this may not bother you, and after all, the seller will be responsible up to a point under the Sale of Goods Act.

I feel that lightboxes are generally hugely overpriced and that it is high time that cheaper models were widely available.  It’s not particularly high quality, and it certainly doesn’t have fancy features of the more expensive models, but for this price I think it does the job very nicely indeed.  That was £10 very well spent.

Bright light therapy: review of the Lumie Desk Lamp

January 27, 2010

The Lumie Desklamp provides 10,000 lux of light at 20 cm.  20cm is closer than is recommended for visual comfort, so at a more sensible distance this will be a lower-powered lightbox  This light uses 55W of power, so don’t think that just because it’s a species of low-energy bulb it’ll save you power compared to your ordinary desk lamp, but you do get a very bright light for that wattage.  The height is 45cm, the head measures 45 x 18cm, and the base 27 x 21cm.  At 2.5kg, this is a hefty piece of kit, though at least that means it won’t fall over.

This is the first bright lightbox I tried, five years ago when the variety of lightboxes available was not as great.  I found Lumie (then Outside In) while reading up on light therapy and was impressed by the amount of research on their website.  The free trial, where you pay upfront but receive a refund if you return it within 30 days (6 weeks for ME sufferers), was a definite bonus.  I spoke to Lumie and we decided that this would be best for my needs, mainly because it is equipped with a dimmer. I expressed concern that the light would give me migraine, as it is a fluorescent bulb.  Lumie said that they’d eliminated the flicker that is one of the reasons why fluorescent light is uncomfortable for many people.  I don’t know whether they failed to do so entirely or whether it’s just that fluorescent light is uncomfortable because of the colour of the light as well as the flicker, but it gave me dreadful migraines, so I had to return it.  Lumie advised me to try building up gradually from a short period on a dim setting, but it made no difference.  Having spoken to them again just now, they still seem to be under the impression that this is a lovely comfortable light that no one could possibly object to, which I felt was a bit too heavy on the sales approach rather than the medical realities, as intolerance of fluorescent light is typical of ME sufferers, migraineurs, many dyslexics, epileptics, and occurs with lots of other people.   Apart from that, I have always found their customer service to be extremely helpful and highly knowledgeable.  Everything went smoothly and I received a full refund.  I would not recommend this lightbox for anyone who is sensitive to fluorescent light, but if this does not apply to you, read on.

The Lumie Desklamp has been designed so that it can be used as a lamp as well as a therapeutic lightbox, which is unusual.  One benefit of this is that it is more discreet: if you’re using it in the office, it’s far less likely to cause your colleagues to ask what it is and then embark on a discussion of your health problems.  The dimmer function (the knob on the base) and the adjustable neck means that it is easier to adjust for comfort while you are using it, and that you can then turn it down and angle it away from you to use as an ordinary desk lamp.  It looks simple and well-made.

Fluorescent lightboxes range from 2,500 lux to 10,000 lux.  10,000 lux is more common these days, as it requires a shorter treatment time (which will still be longer than the treatment time required by an LED lightbox).  This lightbox uses 10,000 lux and at that setting Lumie recommend a treatment time of 90 min for SAD.  (How long is needed for sleep disorders is an entirely individual matter, but I know that I need longer than the recommended treatment time with my LED lightbox.  Use the SAD recommendations as a way of comparing different lightboxes.) An alternative is to use it at a medium setting for longer than the recommended time to get the same overall effect, which again will be a bonus for some people who are more sensitive to bright light.  This is a lightbox which requires you to be sitting by it for quite some time, so it’s one to use while in front of a computer in the morning rather than while gulping down breakfast before dashing out.

Apart from this, it’s a fairly basic lightbox, without the bells and whistles of the GoLite, for instance.  It doesn’t have timer function or a display which could show, for instance, a clock, the time left for light therapy, or the brightness.  About the only one of those I’d consider to be essential is the timer, but you can easily just use a timer on your computer or mobile phone, or buy a kitchen timer.  That said, it would be handy if the dimmer knob was a dial with numbers instead, as it is useful to know the exact effects the different levels of brightness will have on you, especially when you’re at the beginning stage of working out how long to use it for and what brightness setting you prefer.

One of the definite advantages of this model is that the light is positioned exactly where it needs to be, above the eyes.  If you look at this picture, the light is positioned pretty ideally.  I also find it is easier to have the light off the tabletop and up out of the way of desktop clutter, although with such a big lamp base there is less of an advantage here.

While I’m not madly keen on fluorescent light in general, as it really isn’t the best thing to be exposing your eyes to and will cause medical problems in a number of people, it does have one advantage over LEDs in that it covers a broad area, whereas LEDs are highly directional.  This plus the completely adjustable neck means that you really can have the light exactly where you want it.

It’s not the quickest lightbox to use, but if you are in the market for a fluorescent lightbox then I think this one has many advantages worth considering, and it is reasonably priced.

Why an integrated approach?

January 26, 2010

There are a vast number of ways to approach sleeping problems.  Some are, in my opinion, utterly worthless.  I am not interested in purported treatments which are based on sham theories or have failed to stand up to scientific testing.  There are, however, a number of treatments which at present hover uncertainly between the alternative and orthodox worlds of medicine.

Light therapy is mostly on the orthodox side, for instance, although I have heard of a few rather dubious applications of it, such as a pulsed light mask that purports to treat migraine and PMS (there was one trial by the manufacturer, then it was never heard of again).  Bright light therapy for Seasonal Affective Disorder is by now very well established and offered as a routine treatment in many countries.  A smaller but still significant number of trials have shown that it is almost as effective for non-seasonal depression.  Bright light therapy for sleep disorders has been fairly well researched by now, but it is not yet as well established within the medical profession, although I think it is slowly getting there. Dawn simulation has generally been researched for SAD (it mostly comes out as nearly as effective as bright light therapy) and for sleep, in particular for people who struggle to get up in the morning.

Darkness therapy is a much smaller affair, perhaps because there is less money to be made by selling products for it.  It is generally researched by the same people who research light therapy and follows on from the same research, for instance into how different wavelengths of light are received by the eye and affect hormones within the body.  The main application at present is sleep, although there has been some interesting research concerning rapid cycling bipolar disorder.

Herbalism is a big sprawling system of medicine that has been going on for thousands of years and probably contains every plant known to mankind by now.  Various orthodox medications are based on herbal remedies, for instance aspirin comes from willow bark, and some of the most effective have become relatively well integrated into orthodox medicine in some countries.  Since a few herbs have been subject to a decent number of clinical trials and have stood up well in research, I am sticking to those.  Herbal medicines are generally, though not always, milder in action than orthodox medicines and with a lower rate of side-effects.  Sadly, they are still poorly regulated and it is important to read up on dosage and make sure that you are buying from a reputable manufacturer.

Then there are the therapies where research is rather scanty but not entirely absent, and where at least some of the effect may come from the therapy’s being pleasant and relaxing.  I don’t think that aromatherapy will cure a severe sleep disorder, but I’ve heard many doctors recommend lavender oil for mild insomnia, and having a nice warm bath with Epsom salts (magnesium sulphate) seems to be at a similar level.

Darkness therapy

January 26, 2010

The idea behind this is that humans do best when they have melatonin being produced for half the time (averaged out over a year, it won’t be 12 hours all the time unless you’re living on the equator), and that it’s useful both for aiding sleep and for other things such as fertility and cancer risk.  I’m a little warier of claims that a yellow light bulb will fight cancer/get you pregnant than I am of the claims that it will improve sleep, so I’d treat that side of things as rather more speculative, but there does seem to be a fair amount of research backing it all up, if indirectly.  While darkness therapy itself may be fairly new, the various roles of melatonin have been studied a great deal by now.    There have been studies using 12 hours of complete darkness to treat bipolar disorder, but this is difficult to implement and is generally thought not to be necessary, though I’ve read a website by one guy who feels that it is essential and discusses washing up in the dark!  So while there appears to be a great deal of research on melatonin and sleep in general, for instance how shift work affects breast cancer risk, or on populations who do not have artificial lighting (and have many other major difference from industrialised countries), there is as yet little where researchers have directly studied darkness therapy by taking a group of people and changing nothing except the amount of darkness they get at night.  Hopefully this will be remedied before too long, although since there’s nothing in it for pharmaceutical companies, it may take a while.  All the research that I do know of can be found at

Since it’s blue light which affects circadian rhythms and tells the body that it should be awake and not producing melatonin, you can practise darkness therapy by simply omitting or filtering out blue light for several hours before you go to bed and while you are in bed.  There are a few ways of doing this, but the crucial thing is that once you have begun the darkness therapy in the evening, you do not get any white or blue light until the next morning, not even the tiniest bit.

Coloured light bulbs. For general use while awake, I prefer yellow-coated incandescent bulbs.  If you’re in the UK, they’re just sold as yellow bulbs.  If you’re in the US, they’re more likely to be called bug lights.  The bulb should be painted completely yellow, with a solid coating rather than a translucent one, and will produce an amber light which I find pleasant but which my partner, who generally dislikes coloured light, can’t stand. You can also get amber, red, or pink-coated bulbs, which you may prefer.  I’m not entirely sure whether the pink ones will filter out all blue light when used in an ordinary lamp, as I’ve only ever tried a 15W one inside a salt lamp, where the thick salt already filters out most of the blue.

Unless you live alone or are only planning to use these lights while alone (e.g. while breastfeeding or if you need to get up in the night because you can’t sleep), this is a potential snag.  As the coating is substantial, it will reduce the overall light output so that a 60W yellow bulb may be only as bright as a 40W white bulb, or even dimmer than that. You can buy fluorescent versions of these yellow-painted lights as well.  I haven’t tried them yet as I respond so badly to all fluorescent light, but I’m curious about how the yellow coating changes the level of visual comfort by filtering out certain bandwidths.  I tried buying an LED bulb that was sold to me as yellow, but it turned out to be a really nasty street-light orange; same goes for the two types of LED tea lights that I’ve tried.  I’ve been told by several lighting merchants that oranges and yellows are problematic for LEDs, it’s hard to get a pleasant colour.  I haven’t tried yellow halogen bulbs, but from the photos the yellow coating doesn’t look  strong enough to block all blue light.

For use when I’m going to the toilet at night, I bought a couple of red bike lights.  Since I’m an evening bather, showering was a problem.  I originally tried a red bike light, but while I can cope relatively well in near-darkness, it just wasn’t safe.  After puzzling over this for some time, I put a couple of lamps with 60W yellow bulbs on the hall, so that when the bathroom door is open, there’s a decent amount of light.

Even with coloured light bulbs, it’s best to keep the lighting in the evening fairly low.  At one point I had a 60w yellow bulb in a desk light by the bed for reading by, and a 25w bulb hidden behind a vase in the corner on my partner’s side of the bed for ambient background lighting.  Once I got the orange glasses, I eventually stopped using those, though I did acquire a salt lamp for ambient lighting which provides a nice orange glow.   (As far as I can tell,  the salt lamp filters out most blue light but not all, so you may need to get a coloured bulb for it if you’re going to be using it without tinted glasses on.)  If you do get tinted glasses, I’d recommend keeping on one lamp with a yellow bulb by the bed, for the occasions when you need a bit of light during the  night and don’t want to put your  glasses on.  There are various forms of gentle ambient lighting which are naturally low in blue light, such as candles or fairy lights, and for some people these will be an acceptable compromise.  If you go for fairy lights and you’re not going to be using tinted glasses, go for rice lights, which are a warm white, instead of LED lights, which are a cold light containing a lot of blue.  Unfortunately, I’ve found that even the small amount of light from fairy lights can be enough to halt melatonin production and keep me awake for hours if I don’t have my orange glasses on.  I may try “golden” LED fairy lights some time, but since all of the LEDs I’ve bought as yellow turned out to be a nasty orange, at the moment I’m using the salt lamp for my one yellow lamp.

Monitor filters. Computers and television screens emit an awful lot of blue light, and using them in the evening can really mess up your sleep all on its own.  Low Blue Lights and its friends sell expensive amber filters, but I simply got some samples of amber gels from a theatrical lighting company and cut them to size.  They stick on fairly well by static, unless you have the computer screen tilted quite far forward, and are easy to take off for daytime use.  I have a 17″ widescreen laptop and there are several inches to spare, so these would probably do you for up to 19″ or 20″ widescreen.  They’re a bit of a nuisance, they won’t work for larger monitors, and again my partner doesn’t like looking at them (some people just don’t get on with coloured light), but they’re cheap.  Brown filters should theoretically do the same job with minimal colour distortion if you can’t stand orange, though they will need to be fairly dark.

If you’re looking at a monitor through an amber filter or glasses, colours will be quite strongly affected.  The general effect is golden yellow more than orange, oddly enough.  Whites will be yellow, blues will be greens, everything will be a bit different.  This may annoy you, and it may restrict your activities.  I can’t do any quilting that requires me to select colours, and it’s not the time to go internet shopping for clothes.  This isn’t entirely a bad thing, as it forces me to wind down in the evenings and look at those hours during darkness therapy as relaxation time.

Tinted glasses.  There are two ways of doing this.  You can buy ready-made tinted glasses which will block all blue light, for instance from the range at Optima Low Vision, or you can get prescription glasses made up with a tint that will block blue light.  If you want to try standard sunglasses in brown, orange, yellow or red, check with an optician to find out whether they block 100% of blue light, as apparently most of them don’t.  You also want these glasses to provide good coverage, as opposed to some of the tiny lenses you can get these days.

If you’re going for anything expensive, try out darkness therapy with coloured bulbs and optionally monitor filters first to see whether you get on with it and whether it helps.  Since I can’t see without glasses, I decided to try some fitover glasses in amber which had the advantage of very good coverage.

Unfortunately I found them horribly uncomfortable, and they looked terrifying on me, being huge and so dark (much darker than the image shows) that my eyes were utterly obscured, along with half my face.  My partner and I didn’t want our evenings together spoilt by this, so I gave up on the fitover school of thought and had some prescription glasses made up instead.

On my optometrist’s advice, they were tinted with Wratten Tint 21, which is a pleasant orange.  Optical Express (who do some rather nice cheap frames) don’t do that tint as standard, but they could get that orange in 50% light transmission, which was more than enough to block 100% of blue light but still not so dark that my eyes were obscured to someone looking at me.  They called it 500 Orange 50%, and it cost the same as an ordinary tint. (Remember that brown is just orange with black added, so while they will look more conventional and may distort colours less, brown-tinted glasses will need to be darker.)  The glasses are rather fetching, if I say so myself, and I’ve had no complaints that they make me odd to be around.

I still keep the ambient lighting low when possible, as there will be a bit of light creeping in around the edges, and sometimes I put on the salt lamp so that the light is a soft orange.  However, I’ve spent enough time wearing these glasses with ordinary indoor lighting to confirm that they work beautifully in any conditions, and you don’t need to worry too much about what your light bulbs are up to.

I generally put on the glasses at about 9.30 for a bedtime of midnight, and have been using them for four months.  I’m getting sleepy earlier in the evening, sometimes I even fall asleep at 11ish, and I’m sleeping more solidly.  I’d estimate the effect of the darkness therapy to be similar to that of taking a sleeping tablet in terms of getting a good night’s sleep, but without the potential side effects or grogginess the next day.  I find the glasses very relaxing to wear.  If my partner comes home late in the evening, in the past I’d be so thoroughly woken up that I couldn’t get back to sleep for hours.  Now he’s lucky to get a coherent “hello darling” out of me, and I go straight back to sleep.  I haven’t had an episode of not being able to sleep until unholy o’clock in the morning, or waking up at night and not being able to get back to sleep for well over an hour, since I started using the glasses. There have been a few nights where I’ve forced myself to stay up until 2, yawning all the time, but where in the past (using bright light therapy alone) I would have messed up my sleep cycle by doing that and would be unable to sleep before 2 (or worse) for the nights afterwards, now (using bright light therapy, dawn simulation and darkness therapy) my sleep pattern snaps right back into place.  The only exception to this is the one night where I made the mistake of having the fairy lights on for half an hour around midnight when my orange glasses were off, as I’d hoped that they were yellowy and dim enough not to disrupt melatonin production.  The ensuing insomnia made me realise just how dreadful my sleep was in the old days, and how enormously it’s improved since then.

Dawn simulation

January 26, 2010

Dawn simulation works by gradually turning on a light, generally 40w or 60w, over a period of time, most typically 30 min, in order to simulate a sunrise.  The light goes through your eyelids and moves your sleep stage to the point where it should wake you up naturally, meaning that you wake feeling as refreshed as you’re going to get and that hormones such as cortisol do what they’re meant to.  I find that when it wakes me up, it feels like I blink and I’m awake, rather than being dragged kicking and screaming into consciousness.  They all have backup alarms you can set just in case.  Most people don’t need them, but some do, and can still find that while the light isn’t quite enough to wake them up on its own, they do feel much better when they wake up.

As well as making it easier to get up in the morning, some research has found dawn simulation to be as effective or nearly as effective as bright light therapy for treating SAD, and it may work well for non-seasonal depression too.  This is despite the fact that it doesn’t use such bright light, just an ordinary bedside lamp or equivalent.  It’s thought to be something to do with the gradual increase in light having the effect.  The advantage over bright light therapy is that the treatment is over by the time you get up, you don’t have to tether yourself to a light box in the morning, but the disadvantage is that it may not be as effective.  Companies selling both tend to recommend it for mild SAD and bright light boxes for more severe SAD, I’ve noticed.

Dawn simulators also generally offer dusk simulation as well, where the light fades down gradually to help you get to sleep.  I think there’s some research around showing that it helps a bit with insomnia.  I’ve not really used this setting much as it’s less convenient, though I find it relaxing when I do.  I use dawn simulation because it helps stabilise my sleep pattern even further, and because it helps both myself and my partner to get up in the morning.

One common problem with dawn simulators is that they tend to buzz when the light is ramping up or down.  The best solution is to get one of the new energy-saving halogen bulbs, also called halogen incandescent, which are the same shape as standard incandescent bulbs and can be dimmed.  Not only will they save you at 30% on energy (42w is equivalent to 60w and so on, though I and many other people think they actually seem to be brighter than that) and last longer, but the light is good quality and they don’t buzz.  You can’t use fluorescent bulbs in a dawn simulator (I never recommend them anyway as the light causes problems for so many people), you can’t use the usual halogen bulbs, you can’t use LED bulbs if you’ve managed to find one, you can just use them with standard incandescent or energy-saving halogen.  This is for where you put in the bulb yourself: there are a couple of types of dawn simulator around using fluorescent or LED lights already built in.  If you get the type of dawn simulator which plugs into a lamp, again it has to be the sort of lamp which takes incandescent bulbs, and it can’t be a lamp which already has any sort of dimmer fitted, such as a touch lamp.  Just use an ordinary table, bedside or desk lamp.

There’s a new type of dawn simulator which is combined with a lightbox, such as this one (do read reviews, there are some poor quality ones out there by other manufacturers).  They may be a good solution for people wanting to try both dawn simulation and bright light therapy, but bear a few things in mind.  Firstly, it comes up to full lightbox brightness rather than the brightness of a 40w or 60w bulb, so that you will most likely be awake long before it’s anywhere near fully bright.  One solution could be to set a 90 minute sunrise and assume that you’ll be awake after, say, 30 min.  You need your dawn simulation to be by your bed but are unlikely to want to be using your bright light box by the bed, though if you read in bed in the morning or have your laptop close to your bed you could be OK.  The other point that occurs to me is that since the light is much brighter than is needed for dawn simulation, you could place it further away from the bed (e.g. by your computer, if it’s in the bedroom) and just point it in the right direction.  If I was starting light therapy all over again, I’d probably have gone for one of these and hoped that I’d be able to work something out once I’d fiddled with it enough.

I started off years ago with an all-in-one Bodyclock by Lumie where the lamp is built in, but even though it was a 60w bulb I found that it wasn’t bright enough for a reading lamp, plus Lumie often get slated for poor product build quality.  I sold it on eBay and bought myself a Sunrise System which plugs into a lamp or lamps of your choice, and vastly prefer it.  Mine  eventually became faulty and I sent it in for repair, where they reported that it had been damaged by a power surge (at which point I promptly bought a surge protector) and sent me a replacement which is slightly different from the older model.  They can take a bit of getting used to, and I think the company needs to continue tweaking them (though at the very picky level), but generally they’re excellent.  They have lots of useful features, such as being able to set the time individually for each day of the week.  We have it set to finish at 9 am Mon-Sat and 10.30 on Sunday, when my partner starts work later.  Actually he starts quite a lot later on Sundays, but I want to keep myself in a good routine while having a bit of a lie-in.

One of the great things about dawn simulators of this sort is that you can plug them into more than one lamp as long as you don’t exceed the total wattage, which in the case of the Sunrise System is 200w in the US and 300w in Europe.  That’s enough to hook it up to lights all over the bedroom if you like, though most people like to hook it up to a light on each side of the bed.  We’ve found that I get woken up better than my partner does by light, that he doesn’t like waking up to full light and generally prefers it to be dimmer on his side, that he still needs his alarms as he’s trained himself to respond to those, and that I take longer to get up once I’m awake, so that by the time he’s had a shower and got ready for work it’s about the time that I’ll be getting up.

So on my side of the bed, the dawn simulator is hooked up to my bedside light, which is a 40w equivalent low-energy halogen bulb in an anglepoise lamp that faces the wall, and on my partner’s side there’s a little 25w spotlight hidden behind a vase which points into the corner and is enough for ambient lighting.  My partner’s bedside reading light is independent of the dawn simulator.  The dawn simulation starts at 8 am, which is when the first of his three alarms go off.  He gets up at 8.30 when the light is up to half brightness, and I get up at 9 when the light is at full brightness.  As there are alarms going off from 8, I can be anywhere from awake to dozing to having fallen asleep again while the light is increasing, but it doesn’t seem to prevent it from being effective.  Occasionally I sleep in later than 9, but it’s probably only once a week, which for me is fantastic.  This helps keep my sleep stabilised even if I went to bed too late the night before.  I’m getting up earlier than I used to (even when I was using the lightbox), and it’s great being able to get up earlier in the morning and go to bed at the same time as my partner.

What colour light should a lightbox produce? White, blue, full-spectrum?

January 26, 2010

There’s rather a kerfuffle going on amongst lightbox manufacturers as to what is the correct colour for bright light therapy.  Older models of lightboxes all used white fluorescent light, and I think that what is going on is mainly about the longer-established manufacturers trying to hang onto the market, while the new ones are trying to persuade customers that their exciting new product is superior.  So on one side you have old-fashioned white lightbox manufacturers baying that blue light will ruin your eyes, and on the other you have blue lightbox manufacturers claiming that blue light is all that matters.

From all the research I’ve read, it does seem that blue light is the most effective bandwidth.  Blue light is, of course, contained in white light, and even the brightest lightbox will not be as bright as outdoor sunlight.  If thirty minutes in front of a little lightbox was enough to wreck everyone’s vision, we’d all be blind from the sun by now, even with modern indoor living. has written an excellent article on the purported dangers of blue light, concluding that unless you are at high risk of macular degeneration, you don’t need to worry, and to be sensible and not stare directly at your lightbox.

This spectrograph was produced by Apollo Health, the former manufacturers of the first blue lightbox, the GoLite, so it’s not from an unbiased source.  However, all the research I’ve read agrees that 470nm or thereabouts is the most effective bandwidth for affecting the circadian clock, and I’ve seen several spectrographs of fluorescent light (which is the  “standard full-spectrum” in this graph) that look the same.  Fluorescent light is spiky, which is apparently why it’s so harsh on the eyes, and even the full-spectrum versions don’t peak at 470nm.  Presumably this is why fluorescent lightboxes are a great deal larger than LED lightboxes and require longer treatment times.

Something interesting about LEDs is that the blue ones all seem to peak around 470nm naturally (warning: the page has lots of images and takes a long time to load).  This is why I suspect that using a standard blue LED bulb may not be as strong as a fancy lightbox, but it’s the right type of light and if used for longer, may have the same effect.  Typical white LEDs contain a broader bandwidth of light overall, but they turn out to peak around 470nm too (also a long page).  Here’s a typical example of a white LED bulb.

Some lightbox manufacturers claim that their LEDs are “blue-enriched white”, but frankly I think that they’re perfectly ordinary LEDs, the manufacturers are just cashing in on the fact that they happen to peak in the blue bandwidth.  (The advertising shenanigans of light therapy manufacturers can drive you demented at times.)

This means that white LEDs produce a cold light that most people don’t particularly like for domestic lighting, but it makes them ideal for bright lightboxes.  I’ve concluded that while blue light is the most effective, white LEDs are so close behind that you may as well choose your lightbox based on your personal preferences.  Some people find the blue light to be softer and less disruptive, other people find that they need white light so that they can look at colours properly (I once made the mistake of trying to do some embroidery with my GoLite on, and had to unpick it all afterwards as I’d picked up the wrong coloured threads), and a few people, such as my partner, just can’t get on with coloured light.  Choose according to your visual comfort and the other factors involved in choosing a lightbox, such as price, overall product quality and the various features that a lightbox can have.

If you prefer fluorescent lightboxes, there is the question of whether to go for normal or full-spectrum.  As far as I can tell, it doesn’t make any difference therapeutically, so go for whichever light you find to be most comfortable for your eyes, if you can even tell the difference.


Images courtesy of the LED Museum.