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    Turn On Your Lightbox To Turn Off Seasonal Affective Disorder

    They call ‘em SAD lights for a reason, y’know?

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    The shortened days of winter can make anyone want to scream. Your friends go into hibernation, it’s cuffing season, the thought of exercising outdoors becomes absurd (shoveling doesn’t count), and it gets dark around 4 p.m. while you’re still clocked in at work.

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    All you can do, it seems, is bundle up, sleep, eat carbs, and make lists of new shows to binge while watching the same old ones.

    While you can’t force your friends out of their homes (do you really wanna leave yours?) nor make the world more temperate (leave that to global warming), you can save the day by bringing more light indoors — aka practicing light therapy. This commonly calls for a lightbox to help regulate your sleep-wake cycle, which smarter people than me believe gets disrupted by the increased darkness during the winter months.

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    Bad sleep equals bad mood, and for years, researchers have suggested that light therapy could ward off depression and help people cope with seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a fall- and winter-specific depression that comes and goes with the seasons.

    Light therapy studies date back to the ‘80s, and today, it’s perfectly normal to acknowledge that the darkness of winter can make us depressed. “Biologically, what may be going on [during winter depression] is a disruption of the circadian rhythm,” says Dr. Craig Sawchuk, a psychologist at the Mayo Clinic and SAD expert. Earlier sunsets mean your body starts producing melatonin earlier in the day, so you start feeling tired long before bedtime. Light therapy can help counteract this.

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    According to Sawchuk, there’s also the serotonin factor. The neurotransmitter has numerous effects on mood, appetite, and energy level — all of which are thrown out of whack in those who experience SAD or the less-than-clinical winter blues. “We don’t know exactly what’s going on,” he explains. “The brain is a complicated thing, but those are some of the most likely culprits from a biological standpoint.”

    Sawchuk recommends using light therapy to treat seasonal depression because it’s “not invasive.” It works on SAD patients who may not want to take medication for depression that only comes during part of the year, and it works for those who grow listless in the winter and aren’t interested in medicine. It’s also cost-effective. “You can get a decent lightbox for between $40 and $100,” says Sawchuk. The only cons, really, come up for people who are particularly light-sensitive. For them, lightboxes may trigger eyestrain, headaches, or migraines.

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    To practice light therapy, Sawchuk suggests turning on your lightbox within the first hour of waking up. “That ties into the biology of getting that circadian rhythm going,” he says. It also brings up scheduling issues. If you have kids to get to school early in the morning or irregular work shifts, maintaining a regular date with your lightbox can be difficult. You’ll want to keep the lightbox about 3 feet away from you, and don’t close your eyes; it’s important for you to see the light, but there’s no need to stare directly into it, lest you’re asking for a headache.

    Sold on light therapy? Here are some lightboxes to get you started. For the “best return in the shortest amount of time,” Sawchuck recommends buying lightboxes with 10,000-lux light intensity (all of the following products have this). He also cautions that “expensive does not equal quality.”

    Budget Pick: TaoTronics Light Therapy Lamp

    Alice Yoo / BuzzFeed

    On the cheaper end, this little guy is kind of cute. A 5.9 x 5.9-inch circle, it looks more like a regular light fixture than most other lightboxes, whose sleek designs tend to echo Apple products. One reviewer even said they use this high-intensity lamp as a light while putting on makeup.

    Get it from Amazon for $28.

    Midrange Pick: Miroco LED Bright White Therapy Light

    Alice Yoo / BuzzFeed

    Like many lightboxes on the market, this one has three brightness modes and a built-in timer, so you can clock your light exposure without having to think about it. Reviewers call it “cheap and convenient.” Also, it’s tablet-sized, so you can fit it easily in your bag when you travel.

    Get it from Amazon for $40.

    Splurgeworthy Pick: Verilux HappyLight

    Another lightbox that resembles a tablet, this one comes with its own convenient stand. Verilux products tend toward the pricier side and overall seem to deliver the same results as cheaper options.

    Verilux HappyLight, $70 at Amazon.

    Also Worth a Look: Circadian Optics Lattis Therapy Lamp

    Alice Yoo / BuzzFeed

    No other lightbox maker appears to emphasize design to the extent that Circadian Optics does. This lamp looks more like a piece of art. Bonus: The creator, Amber Leong, has a pretty touching story, which she told before successfully selling her product on Shark Tank.

    Get it from Amazon for $70.

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