A device to chase away those winter blues

21 Nov

November 21, 2011

By Geoff Meeker

The dark days of winter are not just a downer, they can be depressing in the literal sense. Those early sunsets are one of the triggers for Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a medically recognized form of depression that is most prevalent in the dreary winter months.

One treatment for SAD is a bright fluorescent lamp that mimics the light of the sun, or “light therapy”.

Now, a new product is making light therapy available as a mainstream consumer product, for those who don’t have SAD but do feel their energy flagging during the winter blahs. It’s called the Philips GoLite Blu, and retails for about $150.

I don’t think I’m tired or cranky during the day, but I received the GoLite as a gift, so maybe someone was trying to tell me something. I do feel “nappish” at about 2 in the afternoon, and, in the morning, it takes several cups of tea to get me up to writing speed, so perhaps I can make use of this device.

At the company’s web site (search for ‘philips golite blu’), the product is touted as a cure-all for pretty much every winter malady not caused by disease.

“In countries with long winters, many people experience loss of energy and low spirits due to lack of light,” says the promotional blurb. “These symptoms are referred to as the winter blues. They typically start in autumn and may last for several weeks. Philips goLite Blu is a simple and natural way to alleviate these symptoms and restore your summer mood and energy level.”

Then it says that “sometimes we experience low moment or dips during the day,” and using the goLite will remedy that. Clever marketing. After all, who among us doesn’t routinely feel a dip in energy levels? They are aiming this product at the widest possible base of consumers, because they want to sell product. But if it truly works, well, that casts a different light on things.

The goLite uses LED lights to produce a “specific blue light like a clear sunny day”. It’s small – about half the size of an iPad – and does not work like a sun-tanning device, which throws light over the entire body. To be effective, it must operate within your field of vision, anywhere from 20 to 30 inches away, so that the light shines directly into the eyes. Apparently, results can be achieved by using the device for 15 to 45 minutes per day.

According to the blurb, “the clear blue light increases your energy naturally, like on a sunny day, but without the UV rays associated with sunlight.” And that’s an important point: whether it works or not, at least the device is not zapping you with harmful UV rays.

The web site claims the device is “clinically proven” and independent research “shows 70 percent (of users) felt their energy levels improved after 2 weeks use.” (However, the source of this research was not spelled out, or linked.)

But does it work? I admit, I was skeptical. If three cups of tea can’t jolt me awake, what’s a big blue flashlight going to do?

Nonetheless, I shelved my doubt long enough to give the goLite an honest try. It has three brightness settings, and a timer. I adjusted the light to its lowest setting, and used it for several mornings, while sipping my tea and reading the overnight headlines.

Let me tell you – this thing is BRIGHT. Even off at a slight angle, beside my computer screen (the most logical placement), it’s like an approaching SUV with headlights on high beam. It’s not subtle – you are always fully aware of, and somewhat distracted by, its presence.

For the first few days, I was disappointed. I didn’t feel more alert. There wasn’t an extra bounce in my step. The couch whispered my name at 2 pm.

Then I gave it another try, on full power. If it was bright before, it was blindingly so now, and extremely distracting. However, with some effort, I was able to ignore it and get some work done. This time, there were results. My energy level did seem to increase. To be frank, I felt a little wired in an “energy drink” kind of way.

Such observations are highly subjective, and this is a point made over and over again, in the online reviews I browsed at credible technology sites. “I’m pretty sure it works,” was a common theme.

Bottom line? If you do become “dragged out” and down during the winter, the goLite is  worth, ahem, looking into. If not, save your money.

Geoff Meeker is a communications consultant with a soft spot for technology. He also writes a blog about the local media scene, which is hosted at http://www.thetelegram.com.

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