Why you should care

Because some of us really need to vanquish feeling SAD in the winter. 

Winter can be tough to take, what with the ice and bitter temperatures, but for many people, it’s the scarcity of sunlight that hurts most. Those with seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, find that lack of sunlight can trigger major depression, and the condition is sad-ly common, especially in low-light parts of the world.

But it’s amazing what a little box with special bulbs can apparently do about this. “Light boxes,” which retail from about $40 to $400, emit simulated sunlight that puts any house lamp to shame. They’re the standard treatment for SAD — the Mayo Clinic says they can be quite effective — though proponents say they can brighten the ordinary winter blues, too. People sit in front of the light box for about half an hour a day, usually within 2 feet, and the strong light tricks the body into thinking it’s getting sunlight.

The normal clinical recommendation is 10,000 lux, the strength of actual sunlight, which can leave you feeling like you injected caffeine directly into your veins. But new technology and recent discoveries suggest that less intensity can be effective, says Dr. Michael Breus, a fellow at the American Board of Sleep Medicine, so long as the light is the right wavelength.

One of the new, lower-lux entrants is out of Vermont (it figures): The HappyLight Liberty 5K ($39.95). The 5,000 lux box is oh-so tiny — 6” x 7” x 3” — which makes it portable and, its maker asserts, “discreet.” And it’s pretty simple to set up:

1. Plug it in.

Downsides: Health insurance typically doesn’t cover light boxes, and to get the full strength, you must sit 6 inches away, which is very close. Still, it’s cheaper than many other higher-lux models, and you can still get a pretty strong dose if you place it right next to your computer. How strong? After 15 minutes near the HappyLight Liberty the other day, I was no longer jonesing for coffee.

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