Posted tagged ‘Light bulbs’

Colour tolerance and myopia

May 11, 2010

I’ve mentioned before that my partner really hates coloured light.  I haven’t tried that many colours on him, just the blue lightbox and a range of yellow and amber bulbs, but he has strongly disliked all of them.  My eye specialist has finally given a reason for why this might be the case. Colour, she says, is very important to myopes (short-sighted folks), and the more myopic you are, the more colour will matter to you.  I’m fairly fussy about colour myself, I can’t stand fluorescent light (though that’s probably a case of colour and flicker) and I’m very picky about colours when it comes to reading and tinted lenses, though I don’t know how far that is caused by having Meares-Irlen Syndrome.  I’d be curious to test my partner some time and see how much colour he can tolerate, if there are any colours he finds easier than others, or if he’s only really happy when the light is white or close to it.  I mentioned to the eye specialist that I find yellow and orange light mercifully comfortable, and she said, “Oh yes, yellow light is very soothing for the eyes.”  For reference, here is how myopia is usually categorised:

0 to -3: mild myopia
-3 to -6: moderate myopia
-6 to -10: severe myopia
over -10: extreme myopia (not usually listed as it’s so rare)

Including astigmatism, I’m about -7, so my eyesight’s worse than that of most people but I still know a fair few people who are at a similar level to me.  My partner, on the other hand, is about -19.  Before I met him, the worst myopia I’d encountered was one guy at -12 and a woman at -10.  Several opticians he’s been to have never seen myopia as bad as his, although it’s by no means the worst around.

So his reaction is unlikely to be the norm, and even my degree of fussiness about light colour seems fairly unusual.  To people who have tried different coloured light or lenses, are you myopic, and have you found difficulty in tolerating the colour?

Advertisements

Adventures in bathroom lighting

February 13, 2010

It’s odd how different people adjust to darkness.  I’ve found that I can manage pretty well in complete darkness for some things, such as finding a water bottle by the bed, and near-darkness for others, such as being able to shower by the light of a little red bike light.  I have another bike light in the toilet for nights, but I rarely even bother to turn it on any more.  Russell Johnston of Photoperiodeffect.com, who is an advocate of more extreme darkness therapy, has taught himself to do tasks from washing up to showering in complete darkness, and comments that if blind people can manage it, then so can we.

This is fair up to a point, but I don’t feel that complete or near darkness is really all that good an idea in some area.  My shower is over a bath and I need help getting out of it, which means that while I may be perfectly happy ambling about in low light levels, having already partially accustomed myself  by wearing the orange glasses for the earlier part of the evening, the person helping me climb out of the shower may not be so happy with suddenly being plunged into almost complete darkness. We managed to keep going for a surprising length of time, and then one evening my partner accidentally stood too close to the bath while giving me a hand out of the shower, I banged my leg on the side of the bath, and we realised that it was time to work something else out.

The simplest solution, of course, would have been to shower earlier in the day.  Unfortunately, while I’ve worked wonders with my sleep patterns, at heart I am still a night owl whose energy is greatest in the evenings.  The ME/CFIDS means that energy is not something I have enough of at any time, and showering is exhausting.  I’ll be curious to see if my energy patterns change significantly in the long term with the use of darkness therapy, because I do get sleepier earlier now, but at present there are also a few other factors which mean that evenings remain the most convenient time for me to bathe.

The difficulty, of course, is that I have a wide selection of colour light bulbs by now, and a snazzy pair of orange glasses, but I can’t wear the glasses in the shower and I can’t plug in a lamp in the bathroom due to the water-electricity hazard (and the resulting absence of sockets).  I spent several days going through every possibility I could.  First of all I looked at battery-operated LED lighting in yellow or orange, thinking I might sit a light source on the laundry basket.  I looked into fairy lights, LED tea lights, even a solar-powered lamp (though round here I’d need to recharge the batteries in a battery recharger).  LEDs in the orange-yellow spectrum tend to be a vile street-lamp orange, but I was getting desperate.  I even ordered a set of six tea lights which I was promised were a pleasant yellow-amber and as bright as ordinary candles.  Neither of these assertions proved to be correct, and they weren’t bright enough to light up a fuse box, let alone a bathroom.

After that I turned my thoughts to real lamps.  We shower with the bathroom door ajar anyway to minimise condensation, so I even tried putting a clip-on lamp on the bathroom door, running two extension cables through the hall to a kitchen socket.  But I wasn’t sure that this was entirely safe, I didn’t like having to move the lamp on every time I wanted a shower, the clip wasn’t wide enough for the door and would only fit on the handle, and the trailing cables looked ghastly.

Eventually I found a good solution.  I swapped over the shoe rack in the hall, which is in the line of sight when the bathroom door is ajar and which conveniently has a socket on the wall behind it, with one of the hall half-height bookcases.  I’ve put an ordinary lamp and a clip-on lamp on the bookcase, which both take 60W yellow bulbs, and pointed them in the direction of the bathroom.  I have to shower with the door a little more open now, which does get a bit chilly although it’s probably better in terms of condensation, and there’s a fair amount of warm golden light shining through.  It’s not perfect, but it’s more than enough light to shower by and for someone to help me get out of the shower, and the positioning means that there aren’t any trailing cables, lamps sticking out where we could bump into them, or things requiring to be moved when I need a shower.  Next time I’m doing up a bathroom, however, I think I’ll put in a bathroom wall light or two with yellow bulbs.

What colour should I use for darkness therapy?

February 12, 2010

By now you may be feeling rather overwhelmed by all the colours I talk about for darkness therapy.  Between my own visual comfort and what is actually available, I use products in a variety of colours.  The one thing they all have in common is that they either block/filter out blue light, or they product light which does not have any blue in it.  This means you can use yellow, orange, amber, red, or brown.  You may find that you have strong preferences concerning colour to the point where the wrong one for you makes you feel unwell, particularly if you have dyslexia, migraine, ME/CFIDS, Meares-Irlen Syndrome, epilepsy, and possibly severe myopia (short-sightedness).  Make sure you can try out a colour before committing to anything expensive.

Yellow

This is the lightest colour of the set.  When used to tint glasses, it increases contrast in a way some people can find disconcerting.  It’s often available as a standard tint for sunglasses, though be sure to ask your optician whether it blocks 100% of blue light.  I have seen some websites selling yellow lenses that claimed that they would work for darkness therapy, but this study suggests that they may not.

I’ve seen two shades of yellow used as a coating for incandescent light bulbs.  Most often it’s the slightly more orangey one.  The light is a little more orange than you’d expect from looking at the bulb coating, and may be described as a marigold yellow.  I personally find it very pleasant.

Reflector bulbs can be sold with a yellow coating, but unless you are going to be using tinted glasses as well, I don’t recommend these as the coating is only translucent and I think it permits some blue light to come through.

Fluorescent bulbs can be bought with a yellow coating as well.  I don’t know what they’re like as I’ve never tried one.  They’re often sold as “bug lights”.

Yellow is rarely used for LEDs, and on the two occasions when I bought something that was sold to me as containing yellow LEDs, they turned out to be a horrible orange.  I’ve been told by lighting specialists that yellow is a tricky colour for LEDs, which is why you don’t see it often.

Candle flames are mostly yellow, although these is a small amount of white light in there as well which may or may not be enough to influence your circadian rhythm.

Orange

This is the colour I chose for my tinted glasses, mainly because it’s directly opposite blue on the colour wheel and I already knew that I got on with it from using an orange monitor filter on my laptop.  Objects viewed through orange lenses appear golden yellow, for some reason.  I find it quite a pleasant colour for lenses, it doesn’t increase contrast, and as apparently is true for many people, it makes it easier for me to read.  The colour distortion may bother you, however.

Orange-coated incandescent lightbulbs are likely to be sold as “amber”, but the coating looks pinkish-orange to me.  The light is a fair bit darker than that produced by yellow-coated incandescent bulbs, being an orange that is almost closer to pink.

Orange-coated reflector bulbs are also usually sold as “amber”.  The coating is again translucent, but I think it probably cuts out most, if not all, blue light.  It’s not the best light source, though, I wouldn’t recommend it.

Orange LEDs are commonly used for appliances, such as on electrical sockets.  Again, there seems to be difficulty in getting a pleasant colour, although the light on my kettle is not bad.

If you wish to buy a salt lamp for decorative purposes, the thick layer of salt looks pink when it is not illuminated and glows orange when you put a bulb in it.  I suspect that a small amount of white light is still getting through mine, so I put in a pink-coated 15W bulb instead and it nows glows a deep salmon colour.

Amber and brown

Amber may be used to refer to orange, or it may be a shade of brown (orange + black).  Amber and brown are common colours for sunglasses, although it has been suggested that not all sunglasses which claim to block all blue light actually do so.  I have no idea whether this is true, I suspect that it may be a marketing myth, but again, check with your optician.

The main advantage of brown is that it doesn’t distort colour in the way that orange does, and the disadvantage is that in order for it to be strong enough to block blue light, it will be quite a bit darker than the equivalent orange.  I tried a pair of amber fitover blue-blocking glasses and not only did everything appear very dark through them, but they completely hid the parts of my face which were behind them.  My orange glasses do nothing of the sort.

Red

Red is the darkest pure colour of the set, and anything viewed by red light or through a red filter will appear monochrome.  This will be off-putting for many people.  On the other hand, there’s a school of thought that red is far more effective than orange or yellow for darkness therapy, so you may prefer to use it for that reason.  However, this site claims that “red is a very uncomfortable color to look through”, so you may prefer to restrict its use to light bulbs.

Red-coated incandescent bulbs exist, but I have not tried them.  You can also buy incandescent bulbs with red (translucent) glass called “fireglow” which will give off more light than the solid-coated bulbs, but I don’t know if the translucent coating is enough to filter out blue light.  Red reflector bulbs are probably similar to these.

Red LEDs are cheap to produce and give off a pleasant colour, so they’re commonly seen in remote controls and so forth.  If you want to use a bike light as the equivalent of a torch, it will probably be red.

Red glass is a popular option for tealight holders.  While the jury is still out on whether candlelight is acceptable for darkness therapy, I would guess that putting the candle into a red candle holder should be enough to compensate for the small amount of white light that may be present.

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.

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 LowBlueLights.com.

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.  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.