Posted tagged ‘GoLite’

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.

Advertisements

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.

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.

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.  Psycheducation.org 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.

Bright light therapy

January 26, 2010

This is best known for treating Seasonal Affective Disorder, where it has been found to be as effective as anti-depressants, although the most effective treatment of all is to combine light therapy with anti-depressants.  What is less well-known is that bright light therapy is almost as effective in non-seasonal depression and is extremely useful for circadian rhythm disorders.

The main myth about bright light therapy is that it’s about full-spectrum lighting. It isn’t.  There are quite a few myths about light therapy which have been set up by rivalrous product manufacturers, and this one is an attempt to sell certain fluorescent lightboxes by claiming that they are in some way better than the others, which has somehow turned into the myth that all you need is a standard full-spectrum bulb.  The most effective wavelength for resetting the circadian clock is 470nm, blue light, so you need either blue light or white light which has plenty of blue in it.  (A couple of manufacturers favour green light for rather complicated reasons which you can read about here, where it’s concluded that they’re not worth trying unless you are at high risk of maculuar degeneration.)  The other important thing is the intensity of the light.  When a traditional fluorescent lightbox is used, 10,000 lux is preferred, though there are a few models around which use 5,000 or even 2,500 and require proportionately longer usage times.  Merely installing a full-spectrum/natural daylight bulb into your domestic light fittings will not make a blind bit of difference, as the light isn’t anywhere near strong enough.  Full-spectrum bright lightboxes were probably introduced because so many people find fluorescent light to be visually unpleasant, and there is a demand for a better colour temperature.  If you are going for a fluorescent lightbox, you may want to see if you can view a normal and a full-spectrum version to find out if you do prefer one or the other, but to be honest I think very few people are bothered about this, and that you’re better off using an LED lightbox if you don’t like fluorescent light.

Lightboxes are used for periods ranging from 15 min to 2 hours, depending on the type and the patient’s needs.  Unless you have Advanced Sleep Phase Syndrome, where you fall asleep too early in the day, the usual time of treatment is first thing in the morning, just after you get up (which for some people isn’t actually morning!), whether this is for sleep disorders or depression.  If you have DSPS or Non-24 Sleep-Wake Cycle, using bright light therapy in the morning has a high chance of stabilising your circadian clock and can even move it backwards so that you are falling asleep and waking up earlier.  I found that using a bright light box just after awakening immediately stabilised my sleep pattern at 24 hours instead of the 25 it had been on for years, and I started this four and a half years ago.  However, if my bedtime and waking time were too late, I needed to combine bright light therapy with a few days of sleeping tablets, taking the tablets an hour earlier each evening.  After that, the morning light therapy would serve to keep my waking time where it should be.  This has worked pretty well for me, although my sleep pattern wandered out of synch a few times a year and needed to be chased back.  Adding darkness therapy into the mix seems to have stabilised it completely.

There are two main types of lightbox, compact fluorescent and LED.  Fluorescent are the traditional ones and have been around for longer.  They are larger, require a longer treatment time, produce white light, and may cause medical problems for people sensitive to fluorescent light, such as migraine, visual problems, dizziness and so on.  The manufacturers try to dodge here and say that they have better ballast, but in my experience they’re just as bad as strip lighting and can cause nasty migraines. Perhaps they are better constructed, but since the light is so much brighter and it’s right by your face, it’s still more than enough to cause problems if you have difficulty with fluorescent light.  On the other hand, because they’re larger and the light is not as directional as LED light, they permit a little more freedom of movement when you are in front of them, though you still can’t move far away.  The light is also more likely to end up in the optimal position above your eyes, though since fluorescent lightboxes take much longer to use than LED lightboxes despite this, the advantage is probably cancelled out.  When looking at the stats for a fluorescent lightbox, most will say that they produce 10,000 lux, but you should also check at what distance that measurement is accurate.  If it’s 10,000 lux at 20 cm, that’s far too close to the light to be comfortable.  60 cm is more sensible, or alternatively just realise that you will need to use the lightbox for longer.  I think that this is how manufacturers are getting around the problem that everyone is told to look for 10,000 lux, but no one is quite sure what it really means and don’t realise that it’s only the measurement of the light intensity at a certain distance.

LED lightboxes have been around for a few years and may produce either white or blue light, which you can read more about here.  They are smaller and require a shorter treatment time.  Not everyone gets on with coloured light, and as the LED panel is composed of lots of little LEDs that look like dots, some people report getting spotting in front of their eyes, although I suspect that they were using the lightbox incorrectly.  You’re not meant to stare into it, you’re meant to position it at the side, or even better above your eyes, so that it hits your peripheral vision. LED lightboxes do have the disadvantage of needing to be placed more exactly and requiring you to stay in the same position, as the light produced by LEDs has a very narrow beam angle.  I use mine by my laptop or while sitting at my sewing desk, and while sometimes I need to prop up the lightbox to get it at the right angle, after that it’s fine.

I have a GoLite, previously made by Apollo and now made by Philips, which is a blue LED lightbox and very highly thought-of.  I also have a Lite-Pad, which is a cheap white LED lightbox I picked up on eBay for a tenner.  I use this one by my sewing table to save messing around with cables when I want to quilt during my morning lightbox stint, and also so that it doesn’t affect my colour judgement.  The GoLite does have a lot more bells and whistles, such as a clock and the ability to set both the light intensity and the length of time for up to three different preset programmes, but you’re paying a lot for them.  The Zadro looks like the best of the cheap lightboxes if you’re in the US, and indeed looks like a very good lightbox in its own right.  You can also buy combination lightbox/dawn simulators, of which more later.

There’s another type of bright light therapy around, known as the light visor, where the unit is placed in a sort of cap worn on the head, and the light is shone into the eyes from above.  Lumie makes a few, and there’s one which produces blue-green light around.  Their one advantage is that you don’t have to be tethered to your lightbox, you can move around.  Psycheducation.org is doubtful about them, and I agree.

Since you can’t tell which lightbox you will get on with in advance, or even if it will work for you, and since these things are very expensive, find a company who will offer either hire-purchase (e.g. the National Light Hire Company) or a free trial (e.g. Lumie).  You may need to spend a while working out the right amount of time to use the lightbox for.

Of course, an entirely free alternative is simply to make sure you get outside for at least one hour every morning.  It doesn’t matter if it’s cloudy.  I’ve run into a woman online who managed to get the same effect by using a 150w fluorescent light (that’s actually 150w, not the equivalent to 150w incandescent), such as this grow light, in her overhead light during the whole day, not just for an hour.  This is far, far brighter than normal domestic lighting, and while it won’t save you energy and many people (especially with ME) will find it uncomfortable on the eyes and/or likely to provoke migraine, for some people it’s a good solution.

Another possible solution is to buy an LED bulb in white or blue and sit with it at a level just above your eyes for a couple of hours a day.  The blue bulb will be exactly the right wavelength, and while the white won’t have as much blue, white LEDs peak at the right wavelength so it will have a lot of it.  It won’t be as strong as a therapeutic lightbox but if you use it for long enough and keep it close to the top of your eyes, you may be able to get a decent result out of it.  If anyone tries this, do let me know how you get on.  I’ve got one of the blue bulbs which I’ve used for experimenting with moonlight simulation (this is popularly known as Lunaception and is meant to improve menstrual cycles, although for me it just wrecked my sleep), and I’ve noticed that I tend to feel wired after looking at it, and that using it for half the day was enough stimulation that I had a great deal of trouble sleeping that night.  So I reckon there’s quite a bit of potential with those little blue bulbs, and they’re better filtered than lightboxes so you don’t get spotting even if you look straight at them.