An inventive team of high school students has created a new light therapy device that may provide relief for the millions of people who suffer from a seasonal form of depression.
As the days shorten and fall gives in to winter, bouts of the “winter blues” aren’t uncommon. But a more serious form of winter depression known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) can make the colder, darker months a long period of misery for many.
What is SAD?
When the seasons change and the length of daylight hours varies, there is a shift in our circadian rhythms. This can cause our “biological clocks” to be out of sync with our daily schedules, and can have dramatic effects on our overall wellness. The most difficult months for SAD sufferers in the Northern Hemisphere are January and February, and younger people and women tend to be at higher risk.
Symptoms of SAD can include regularly occurring depressive symptoms (mainly excessive eating and sleeping and weight gain) during the fall and winter, full remission from the depression in the spring and summer, symptoms occurring in the past two years with no non-seasonal depressive episodes, decrease in libido, lethargy, irritability, tension and anxiety, and a craving for sugary and/or starchy foods.
Reduced serotonin levels in the brain are believed to be a cause of SAD, and melatonin, a sleep-related hormone secreted by the pineal gland in the brain, has also been linked. Melatonin, which can cause symptoms of depression, is produced at increased levels in the dark. Therefore, when the days are shorter and darker the production increases, our brains are “tricked” into thinking it’s night (even hours before we go to sleep), and we essentially go into “hibernation” mode.
For these reasons, light therapy is a commonly used treatment for SAD.
What is light therapy, and how is this new invention different?
During light therapy – also known as bright light therapy or phototherapy – you sit or work near a device called a light therapy box. The box gives off bright light that mimics natural outdoor light. For those suffering with SAD, light therapists recommend sitting for between 15 and 20 minutes everyday in front of a light box designed to supply them with bright light similar to the sun.
The new invention – created by a team of Massachusetts high school students – could be even more effective because it feels less artificial, reports TechHive:
Micah Reid, a last-year student at Nuvu speciality school in Cambridge, Mass., battles SAD every winter, but she’s avoided phototherapy because it felt unnatural. So Reid and a team of fellow students created the Life Light, a phototherapy light that looks like a normal window covering.
Reid explained that conventional boxes are “small, bright, and ugly.”
“We wanted it to be beautiful and convenient,” Reid said of the Life Light.
Reid and fellow NuVu students Andy Kreiss and Maia Levitt spent two weeks selecting the right fabric for their product, to ensure it had the most natural feel.
Life Light consists of a motor-controlled roll-up window shade with rows of LEDs attached to it. A sheer drape in front of the shade helps diffuse the light, making it look more like natural sunlight coming through a window. A mobile app turns the LEDs on and off and rolls the shade up and down. Users can also program the app to dim the therapy light and to create on/off schedules.
Kreiss told TechHive that the LEDs are set to clinical phototherapy levels by default. But as Reid pointed out, “there’s lots of different applications” for the Life Light, including combating the effects of jet lag.
Reid said she and her team will continue to work on the Life Light through the next year before leaves for college in late 2017. She intends to launch a Kickstarter campaign for her project before entering college, and hopes the Life Light will be available as a retail product by 2018.
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