Archive for the ‘Reviews’ category

Beam n Read hands free lamp with blue-blocking filters

August 10, 2015

If you are a quilter or crafter, you’ll know the importance of having good light to work by.  I have two spotlights over my sewing desk, which is fine when I’m working there, but when I get to the stage that involves curling up in bed or on the sofa with the quilting frame, I have a lighting issue.  Recently I discovered that some quilters wear head torches for this.  You look a bit daft, and anyone you lift your head to talk to won’t appreciate the sudden beam of light in their face, which I can manage.  What was bothering me was that the cold white LED shining right above my eyes wasn’t a great option if I wanted to sew in the evenings, in terms of avoiding blue light, and sometimes it would give me a headache.

After some hunting around, I discovered the Beam n Read.  It’s a lamp you hang around your neck, so that it points down onto your crafting or your book and not into the face of your startled partner.  You can get a version with 3 LEDs or a version with 6 LEDs, with a switch that allows you to turn on just 3 of them if you choose.  More relevant to this website, it comes with two snap-on filters that block blue light. One is amber, one is red.  The folks at Beam n Read very kindly sent me one for review.  It’s the 6 LED model.  There’s also a model with a magnifying glass, but I don’t get on with those so I didn’t request it.  Here’s their picture showing what they look like with the filters on.

BNR_LED6_ filters_W2b

It’s an ingenious little device, especially with the filters.  Some people want to be able to see more and can use the amber filter, some want the light to be dimmer and use the red filter, and some simply have a colour preference.  They don’t make any medical claims, of course, but it gives you the option to use task lighting that filters out blue light and thus shouldn’t disrupt your melatonin production.  Having a personal, focused light can be particularly useful if you are, say, reading in bed and don’t want to disturb your partner, or if you’re getting up to feed a baby and want to minimise everyone’s sleep disruption.  The elastic strap which goes around your neck is adjustable, and the lamp itself is sturdily built.  If you find that the 6 LED version is a bit bright on its own, you have the option of reducing it to 3 LEDs when it’s on white, and then putting it on 6 LEDs when it has the colour filter on, so that you don’t end up with a light that’s suitably coloured but too dim to see by.  The colour filters are great, they give a strong light in two useful and pleasant colours, and you don’t get any light bleeding around the edge.  The light seems to be about as strong as my Petzl Tikkina head torch, which is about right for me, neither too dim to work by, nor so bright that you get glare problems.  Being bigger (and heavier), it takes bigger batteries, so it’ll last a lot longer before requiring fresh ones.

Unfortunately, it just didn’t work for me.  As a child, I remember reading a book which said something along the lines of, “Owen’s parents realised he needed spectacles when they saw him reading with the book six inches away from the end of his nose.”  (I have no idea what the book was, but it definitely featured an Owen.  I think he was Welsh, and there may have been magic involved.)  I thought this was rather odd, as I have always held books that close or closer even with my glasses on!  It’s the same when I’m sewing.  From what my optometrist says, people who are very short-sighted like me tend to do this, and you end up finding positions for reading and sewing that work nicely for you without much trouble.  However, it means that having the light shining from the top of your chest, rather than from somewhere near your eyes, is absolutely useless.  I shortened the strap as far as it would go, and moved the quilting frame around, and wriggled.  Unless I sat at a really uncomfortable angle which I couldn’t sustain for long, I couldn’t get the light to do more than illuminate the bottom part of the quilting frame.  I found the strap rather scratchy as well.  Beam n Read mentioned that some quilters make their own strap, which may mean that there are a few other people having this problem, although it could just be a case of quilters wanting to make their own version of any textile in sight.

So then I tried putting it on my forehead.  The strap is too long for that, so I grabbed my trusty eye mask and put that on top of it to keep it in place.  That worked, but then it felt uncomfortable having that big straight block of plastic against my forehead.  A spare fleece wrist warmer worked for padding, and I managed to keep it on my head for long enough to work with.  I now had light coming from the angle I wanted, and I could change it to amber light in the evening so that it wouldn’t creep around the edges of my orange-tinted specs!  But the set up was quite ridiculous, it’s really not meant to be used that way, and before long it fell off.  I don’t have babies who need to be fed in the middle of the night with minimal light, or go camping, or any other uses that I can think of that would work for me.  Reluctantly, I gave up on it.  I think I’ll have to buy a second head torch and put an orange vinyl filter over it instead.

By this point I was eyeing it wistfully, as it’s a nifty device and I had really wanted it to work.  I brought it out to show my friends when they were around for board games, as they are crafters too.  The cross stitcher said it wasn’t for her.  The spinner is interested, and since they hold their spindle quite low down, it may end up working for them.  The knitter wasn’t there and hasn’t been knitting much for a while anyway.  My partner, who doesn’t do any of these things (though he does play a variety of musical instruments), is wondering whether he will be able to attach it to a bedpost so that he can read in the evening without having his rather large bedside lamp on and shining white light everywhere.  I suspect it won’t really work for that, but we will play around and see what can be done.  I’m sure there is someone I know who will find that it’s just the thing for them.

I can’t really give this one a rating, since whether it works for you will depend on whether you like having light coming from your chest rather than near your eyes, and what sort of tasks you will use it for.  If you reckon it will suit you, then it’s great.  The only thing I’d criticise is the strap, which I hope they improve in the future.  Apart from that, it’s the only device of this nature I know of which has orange and red filters, and it’s sturdily built, with a good battery life.  You can get head torches with an additional red light built in, but as far as I can tell, the red light on those is too dim for sewing or reading by.  I may give one of them a try just to see.

Eye masks

July 20, 2015

Here’s how not to use eye masks: get one that’s too tight.  Yes, it stays on better, but then you end up at the optician’s complaining that you have hours of blurry vision every morning, due to the pressure on your eyes.  At least, I did, and I felt like a right noodle once I realised what was most likely causing it.  The offending eye mask was one by Muji which seems to have been withdrawn by now, and had strange double straps that were meant to go around your ears and didn’t.  Perhaps it was too small for everyone, since I’m a small woman and anything that’s tight on my head is unlikely to fit that many people.  Their current models look a lot more comfortable.

Eye masks are the sort of thing where there is a great deal on the market and you can usually find something to suit your taste.  In the past I’ve relied on blackout curtain linings instead, but I now have a partner who prefers to have some light coming through in order to wake him up in the morning, so this was the easiest solution.  My own preference is for cotton, soft and flexible, and I wanted something more substantial than the standard cheapie ones.

 Lewis Clark eye mask

After reading Amazon reviews and noting many complaints that dark coloured eye masks would bleed colour onto the bedding, I bought the Lewis Clark eye mask, which comes in a variety of colours.  It’s currently £13.99.  Years of early exposure to “girls must like pink” have caused my attitude towards pink to be ARGGH GET IT OFF ME, so I plumped for the turquoise, which is more of a soft sea green.  The bedding remains unharmed, and it’s a colour which I can spot when it’s fallen off and hidden in the covers somewhere.  The drawback with a lighter colour is that it isn’t a complete blackout mask.  They should look into a layer of dark fabric in the middle, as the inside is a lightish grey.  You don’t really notice unless the room is quite brightly lit, though.

After the business with the eye mask that was too tight, one of the most alluring features of this mask was that it has an adjustable strap.  It’s a good wide piece of elastic, too, unlike the narrow stringy things on cheaper eye masks that stretch out before long.  The mask still falls off my head every now and again, but I suppose nothing is perfect, and I’ve always managed to hunt it down again in the morning.  The cover is a soft plush, the inside is comfortable even for my ultra-fussy skin, it feels breathable rather than sweaty, and the sort of flap at the bottom does a reasonably good job of blocking out light that might seep in around your nose.

To be honest, if you want something that offers a complete black-out, you probably need the sort of rigid eye mask that looks like you’re wearing bulbous goggles.  I’ve had one of those and found it rather uncomfortable, although not as uncomfortable as my partner did when it collided with his face!  No one wants an eye mask that threatens to leave bruises if you happen to have a sleepy snuggle, after all.  So I reckon this is a good compromise between blacking out the light completely, comfort, and not leaving peculiar bluish stains on my bed linen.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Dawn simulation: review of the Sunrise System SRS100

February 23, 2010

The Sunrise System SRS100 is the second dawn simulator that I tried, after I found the Lumie Bodyclock to be too limited.  I like being able to choose exactly what sort of light I have by my bed and where it is positioned, and using a plug-in dawn simulator allowed me to do exactly that.  In fact, it even allowed me to take my partner’s light preferences into consideration.  If you use a multiway plug, you can hook up as many lamps as you like, provided that the total wattage does not exceed 300W (Europe model) or 200W (USA model).  You could light up the entire room on that, if you wished.  It needs to be straightforward lamp that does not include a dimmer function already (so touch lamps are out), and you have to use the right kind of bulb (standard incandescent and dimmable energy-saving halogen are fine; fluorescent, LED, or ordinary halogen won’t do), but apart from that, any lamp will do.  If you want to put in a “special daylight bulb”, which used to mean a “neodymium” incandescent bulb with a lavender coating but now means a dimmable halogen (both are meant to produce a whiter light, tbut he dimmable halogen does a better job and is a lot easier and cheaper to find, not to mention energy-saving), then you can.  I’d suggest using the energy-saving dimmable halogen, not just for those reasons but also because with the best will in the world, dawn simulators are prone to buzzing when standard incandescents are used, and they don’t do this at all with dimmable halogen.

From reading a large number of dawn simulator reviews, while a small number of people are choosy about the exact colour of the light they wake up to, far more are concerned with the brightness.  Reviewers of all-in-one models frequently complain that the light is not bright enough to wake them up (or read by), and very occasionally complain that it’s too bright for them.  The ability to select exactly how long the dawn simulation takes appears to be another key issue.  Nor does this type of dawn simulator ever cause problems with not liking the appearance of the lamp (several brands are frequently slated as producing ugly, cheap-looking lamps), or having to replace the entire unit when the built-in bulb dies (this problem appears to occur only with the Philips Wake-Up Light).  This unit is not going to win any art awards (I’ve yet to see any type of light therapy device which will), but it’s fairly standard-looking for this sort of gadget and is reasonably small and neat at 11.5 x 13 x 7.5 (base)/3 (top) cm.  The picture above is showing it next to a fairly small lamp.

Being able to choose exactly what sort of light you use, where you position it and how long it takes to come on, is a joy, especially if you have a partner and the two of you have slightly different tastes in this department.  I’m perfectly happy to be woken by a fairly strong light after half an hour, but my partner finds it much too bright when he’s still at that stage of waking up.  After some experimentation, we put a stronger bulb on my side of the bed than on his, and set the dawn simulation to take an hour so that we’re getting up while the light is still softer and don’t have to face bright light until we’re more awake.

Dawn simulation is originally intended to be used while asleep, but we’ve somehow ended up using it while we’re dozing and then getting up, as my partner prefers to have several sound alarms starting at the same time that the dawn simulation starts.  It still works: we wake up feeling more refreshed and we find it easier to wake up at the same time every day.  We both find that about fifteen or so minutes into it, we’re not at all keen on this whole morning idea and may even try to hide under the quilt if we’re awake enough, but by the time the light is fully on, we’re up and doing.  I’ve also used dawn simulation in the conventional fashion in the past, when it would feel as if I simply blinked and was peacefully awake, rather than being dragged painfully into consciousness by an alarm clock.

In the new model (more on this below), Morning Sunrise have put in a couple of features which I wasn’t sure about at first but now rather like.  The first is that when you simply turn the lamp on or off, it fades up/down over two seconds instead of coming on instantly.  This took me a while to get used to, but it can be soothing, and it’s mostly useful for when you want to turn the lamp off and then get out of the bedroom without tripping over in the dark.  The other feature is that if you let the dawn simulator come on and don’t do anything to it (I think this only applies when the sound alarm is off, otherwise you have to press a button), the light will stay on for an additional hour, turn off, and the dawn simulator will automatically come on the next day.  This is handy for people who may forget to turn their dawn simulator on every day, and also people who dash out of the house in the morning and can’t remember whether they turned the light off or not.  I presume the hour is to give you time to shower, dress, breakfast and so forth.  I’m often still in my bedroom after that hour, so I just turn the lamp on again using the snooze button.  I’ve also just been reminded that the extra hour is useful as a back-up if you’re not properly woken by the dawn simulation, for example if you snooze for a while after awakening.

This lamp also has a number of other features which I don’t use but other people may find useful.  There’s an optional nightlight which is adjustable, so that you can set it to come on as brightly as you please.  Obviously I’m not keen on nightlights that have any blue light in them as they will suppress melatonin production, but incandescent and dimmable halogen bulbs produce very yellow light when they’re that dim and there won’t be much blue in there, so most people will be happy with this.  (It’s certainly better than some of the nightlights you can buy which produce bluish white light, the last thing they should do.)  There’s a “security” setting that will put the lamp on at random intervals as a burglar-deterrent if you’re away.

The majority of these are features that you’re not going to get with an all-in-one dawn simulator, where you’re lucky if you can change the length of time the sunrise/sunset takes, and the cost of the Sunrise Syste, SRS100 is equivalent to the cheapest end of the all-in-ones, at least the decent models.  (There are a few cheap and nasty things out there, which can generally be spotted because they cost a tenner new on eBay and get diabolical reviews on Amazon.)  To compare to Lumie’s all-in-one range, you have to spend £99.95 with Lumie before you can vary the length of the sunrise/sunset (though they don’t offer 45  or 75 min) and £149.95 before you get seven-day alarm settings, and even then you may find that the lamp is too dim to read by.  On the other hand, the SRS100 doesn’t include sleep sounds, a radio or anything else like that.  Morning Sunrise offers more expensive models with those features if you want them, and come to that they also offer several fully-featured all-in-one models as well.

As with all dawn simulators, there’s an optional back-up sound if light isn’t enough to wake you reliably every single morning.  The sound it makes is absolutely horrible.  It beeps once, then twice, then three times, and I don’t think I’ve ever been able to stand it for longer than that.  Some people prefer to have a good strong sound, even if it’s vile, so that they can guarantee that it will get them up, but personally I’d rather set the alarm on my phone.

The people at Morning Sunrise have gone to quite a lot of trouble to make this dawn simulator customisable.  I originally bought mine several years ago, and eventually it started showing a couple of minor faults.  Morning Sunrise suggested that I send it in for repair at the cost of £15, and that they’d either repair it and upgrade the software, or replace it if it was beyond repair.  They ended up replacing it, and told me that the damage had been caused by a power surge, so I bought a surge protector for my new model.  (I definitely recomend getting a surge protector, they’re cheap and it seems that dawn simulators may be particularly vulnerable to power surges.)  This does mean that I can compare the older and the newer software, and I know that they’ve changed things because of customer requests.  I’ve found their customer service to be excellent.

The snag is that they’re trying to pack a lot into a fairly small unit with only five buttons.  I feel that it’s time that they redesigned the unit slightly to add a couple more buttons and to make the display light up in a sleep-friendly colour (red or amber) rather than the melatonin-suppressing green.  To give an example of how things have changed:

Old model: backlight options were full, dim, or full for a few seconds after pressing a button and then dim afterwards.  This meant that there was an annoying light by your bed at night.  Customers complained about this, so it changed to:

New model: backlight options are the above three plus completely off or full for a few seconds and then off.  I went for the last option, so I no longer have to drape a cardigan over the display at night, but on the other hand I can’t see the display unless there’s a strong light on, and have trouble even then.  I’m looking at it now and I can just about see the time, but I can’t see the date or the little row of symbols at the top that show whether the dawn simulator is on and so forth.

What they should try next: programming it to illuminate the display during the daytime only, either on a timer or by following when the light was on.  I’ve mentioned this to them and they made interested noises.

That is, of course, a very minor quibble.  Complaints are more often about how long it takes to programme the device.  I find it straightforward and intuitive to programme, unlike the GoLite, as you simply cycle through a very long menu.  This does, however, mean that if you just want to change one thing that’s at the end of the menu, it’ll take a while to get there.  Being able to have an individual setting for each day of the week is great, but if you want to change your sunrise times then you will have to go through seven settings to do so, there’s no way to do them all at once.  Shift work would be a nightmare.  When my partner was on holiday this week we decided to have a bit of a lie-in but still get up at a reasonable hour, and instead of resetting all the sunrise times I actually ended up just moving the clock by an hour instead.  I’d really love to see a “holiday” feature where you could simply set all your sunrises to come on an hour later than usual.  This isn’t something that exists in other dawn simulators to the best of my knowledge, I’m just getting greedy because the device has such capabilities already.

The main thing that bothers me, since setting the device is something you only have to do occasionally, is that there aren’t enough buttons and they all mean different things at different times.  The ZZZ button is the main way to turn the lamp on and off, but when the sunrise is in action it’s the snooze button and will turn the light down to dim for seven minutes before turning it back onto full, as opposed to simply turning it off.  I often have to press the buttons twice to get a response, for some reason.  If you want to adjust the intensity of the lamp when it’s not mimicking a sunrise or sunset, you press the + and – buttons.  However, if you just leave the dawn simulation to come on every day automatically without turning it off (a little clock will show on the display), pressing the + button when the lamp is on will begin the sunset.  I also had to ring Morning Sunrise to find out how to get the dawn simulation to come on automatically every day without accidentally disabling it when I turned the light on or off, as it wasn’t in the manual.  The device really needs a couple of extra buttons so that the dawn simulation is controlled completely separately from the main lamp.  There have been quite a few occasions when I accidentally started the dusk simulation or disabled the next day’s dawn simulation.

While I did have to spend a while relearning how to use this dawn simulator after I’d had it replaced, and grumble about a few details, in general I am very happy with it and trust that Morning Sunrise will continue to improve the product so that the snags are ironed out.  They appear to have noticed that green isn’t the best colour for a display judging from their more recent dawn simulators, for example, so hopefully the rest will follow.  Judging from the reviews I’ve read, product quality seems to be consistently good with this company.  This is their most basic model but it’s still feature-packed, and I understand that it’s an extremely popular dawn simulator worldwide.

Morning Sunrise have both UK and EU models, and will ship internationally.  At the moment, it’s cheapest to buy from the manufacturers rather than a reseller.  The same dawn simulators are sold in the US under the brand name BlueMax, although I still haven’t worked out which is the parent company.

Bright light therapy: review of the GoLite

February 12, 2010

The GoLite is a nifty little lightbox at only 15 x 15 x 3cm, which makes it extremely portable.  It comes with extra international plugs and a padded carry case, and I have successfully used mine in Israel as well as the UK.  My version is not rechargeable, but the newer ones are, so that if you need to use it somewhere else, you wouldn’t have to scrabble around on the floor to unplug and replug cables.  The case has a clamshell design, so that when it’s closed the lid protects the LED panel, and when it’s open the lid acts as a base.  Unfortunately, the stand is not adjustable and I’ve found that it’s at the wrong angle when it’s placed on a table, so that I have to prop it up on my glasses case.  LEDs are a very directional form of light and you have to position LED lightboxes just right.  While the brightness of traditional fluorescent lightboxes is measured in lux, with 10,000 lux being ideal, the light produced by LEDs is so different that the lux measurement doesn’t apply.  I don’t think I’ve heard yet of an LED lightbox which was not bright enough, but do read reviews if you are looking at different models.

Unlike the lightboxes which came before it, the GoLite doesn’t just use LEDs, it uses blue LEDs. The manufacturers found through research that there’s one particular bandwidth of light that affects the circadian clock, at around 470nm, and luckily blue LEDs naturally peak in exactly that bandwidth.  (Despite what the manufacturers claim, all blue LEDs do this, so any lightbox with blue LEDs should do the same job.)  Traditional fluorescent lightboxes do contain some light in that bandwidth, but they don’t have very much of it.  By isolating the correct bandwidth, the idea is that you can get away with a smaller lightbox and a shorter treatment time, thus hugely increasing how effective it is.  My experience and all the reviews I’ve read of blue lightboxes appear to bear this theory out.  The manufacturers recommend a treatment time of 15-45 minutes, which for bright lightboxes is excellent, and even with stubbon sleep disorders I have always found 35-45 minutes to be sufficient.  The snag is that not everyone likes blue light, but most people are fine with it and it’s a pretty soothing light as such things go.  I have difficulty tolerating bright light and I’m absolutely fine using the light on full intensity.  The build quality appears to be good and the only problem I’ve had in five years of near-daily use is that one of the 66 LEDs now only lights up intermittently, which does not affect the efficacy or visual comfort at all.

Apart from the inability to adjust the stand and the high price, my only niggle with the GoLite that I own is that the settings are a nuisance to understand and the instruction manual wasn’t much help.  It does have various features, including a clock, treatment timer, variable light intensity, and the ability to save three different programmes, but you may need to ring up your seller or the manufacturer in order to learn how to do this.  It’s not intuitive to set, involving strange combinations of holding down several buttons at once, and you’re unlikely to remember how to do it.  After five years of use, I’ve sorted out my preferred treatment time and light intensity so that I just need to turn it on and hit “light” in order to get my treatment running, but I have no idea how to change the programme settings or even how to change the time when the clocks go back.  Thankfully I only use the one programme and don’t use it as my clock (it lives in a bedside drawer when not in use), so this doesn’t particularly matter.  I did try using Programme B for a shorter treatment time with lower light intensity for when I had a headache, but eventually I stopped bothering.  If I have a migraine, I skip the lightbox for that day, and if it’s only a mild headache, the light doesn’t seem to do me any harm.

The GoLite was my first big step in improving my sleep.  Before using it, my daily pattern was 25 hours, so that I would fall asleep an hour later every day.  I started using the GoLite when I woke up, and the pattern immediately stabilised at 24 hours.  With judicious occasional use of sleeping tablets, I could even move my bedtime and waking time back when they had crept too far forward, although I still tended towards late hours and had to accept that while the Non-24 Sleep-Wake Disorder was now firmly under control, the Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome was only partially managed.  (Darkness therapy is what finally solved the latter.)  After some experimentation, I have settled on a 45 minute treatment time, although now that I am using darkness therapy as well I may be able to get away with less.  I found after a few years that even if I skipped my treatment for the odd day here and there, my sleep pattern remained stabilised at 24 hours, so it seems that to some degree my circadian clock has been retrained.

I bought my GoLite in 2005, back when it was the only LED lightbox on the market and pretty new at that.  The version I bought was the P1 (the link takes you to the place I bought it from, which I highly recommend).  As you can see, it’s still for sale at quite a good price now, although some people may prefer to pay more for the newer, fancier versions.

Back then, the GoLite was made by an American company called Apollo Health who made a variety of fluorescent lightboxes as well and had done quite a lot of research into light therapy.  I loved their website.  It had some of the best information about bright light therapy for various conditions that I’d ever seen, and devoted plenty of space to sleep disorders, where most lightbox manufacturers just talk about SAD.  It even had a free test you could take to find out whether you had a circadian rhythm disorder, rather like the Morningness-Eveningness Questionnaire.  When I rang the company, there was an extraordinarily knowledgable chap I could speak to about exactly how I should treat my sleep disorders using light therapy.  Apollo Health has since been taken over by Philips, which means that you have a household name, you can speak to customer services in your own country, and it’s doubtless doing great things to get the product out there, but that wonderful resource of the Apollo Health website has been lost.

The new GoLite

Philips have redesigned the GoLite so that it now looks rather different.  I haven’t tried it out yet, but I’ve spoken about it in some depth to the National Light Hire Company.  It does look snazzier, but frankly I’m not that interested in its decorative value and it’s certainly not something I’d be willing to pay more money for.

The new GoLite BLU (no, Philips, misspelling words does not make your product more attractive to me) still lacks an adjustable stand, but it does feature a built-in battery, so that it is rechargeable.  I’ve always hated having to mess around with unplugging cables whenever I wanted to move my lightbox to the other room, so this would have been a very useful feature for me, and it would have made it easier to take over to my partner’s flat in the days before he moved in.  I’ve read that it has a much wider treatment angle than the older model, though I’ve not been able to confirm this.  When I talked to the National Light Hire Company, we discussed how it compared to the Lumie Zip, another popular LED lightbox, and they said that the new GoLite has a lot more features than the Zip and is generally more modern and high-tech.  They did not know whether it was easier to use, but judging from the user manual it’s still awkward.  It features a touchscreen, which I suspect may make it even more awkward when it comes to holding down two buttons at once, although at least the display looks nice and clear, in a blue that matches the bright light panel.  Abandoning the clamshell design of the older GoLite means that you no longer  have a back that can flip over to cover the screen. From having knocked mine onto the floor countless times over the years, I think the GoLite is sturdy enough that it doesn’t matter, and they do provide a nice slimline carry case.

The GoLite continues to be known as one of the highest-quality lightboxes around, and its small size and relatively short treatment time give it a big advantage over traditional fluorescent lightboxes.  It is no longer the only LED lightbox on the market, however.  Apart from the  popular Zadro (not available in the UK), all other LED lightboxes provide white light which peaks in the blue spectrum.  Blue provides a gentler light and possibly (but not necessarily) a slightly shorter treatment time, while white is likely to be more acceptable to anyone who is picky about their light colour, for instance if they need to make colour judgements.  Whether you prefer to pay more for the additional features and reliable brand name, or save money to get a more basic LED lightbox, is up to you.  If I were starting over with light therapy now, I think I’d buy a cheaper lightbox but make sure that it was from somewhere with a good returns policy in case of faults.

Products I’d like to try: the Sleeptracker

February 5, 2010

There’s a new gadget called the Sleeptracker which claims to follow the stages of sleep you are in and wake you up at the best point. It looks like a watch and is worn like one.  The idea is that it detects the stages of sleep you are in by recording your movements.  You give it a time slot during which you’d like to wake up, and when it finds that you are in a light sleep during that time, it sounds the alarm.  This means that you’ll have to accept a certain degree of variation in what time you will wake up, but in theory this won’t matter as even if you lose a little sleep, you’ll waken feeling far more refreshed than you would have if you had been woken up during deep sleep.

I’ve not tried it as I’m already meeting my needs with light and darkness therapies, but it looks interesting for people who need to get up in the morning and struggle with this.  I have no idea how well it works, and online reviews are mixed.  Apparently the problem is that detecting sleep through bodily movements isn’t terribly reliable and it can make all sorts of mistakes.  It’s an interesting idea, though.

There is an iPhone application which is meant to do the same thing.  I have no idea what it’s like, but if you have an iPhone it sounds well worth a try.

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.