Review

Let’s give people with winter depression (seasonal affective disorder, SAD) LOTS OF LIGHT and see what happens!

Our preprint is out now for our paper “100,000 lumens to treat seasonal affective disorder: A proof of concept RCT of bright, whole-room, all-day (BROAD) light therapy”! We have sent it to a number of professors working in that area and have received very encouraging and helpful feedback, which has made me even more excited about continuing this research.

→ Paper: https://medrxiv.org/cgi/content/short/2021.10.29.21265530v1, short summary Twitter thread: https://twitter.com/FabienneSand/status/1457745472773296128 
 

Jan Brauner and I are very thankful to the LessWrong/EA communities, which have inspired this first study (there will be more) and through which we have found funding. In particular, thank you Eliezer Yudkowsky for helping us find funding and for inspiring the study with Inadequate Equilibria, David Chapman for inspiring us with these two posts in the Meaningness blog, Raemon for inspiring us with this LessWrong post and everyone who discussed with us setups they have tried. <3

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10 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 8:47 AM

I participated in this study, with full-room illumination of 60.000 lumens and 6 hours per day of treatment. The effect was remarkable. Throughout Winter 2019/2020, I did not feel depressed or lethargic on even one single day on which I used the setup correctly. I did feel depressed 2-3 times per week in the weeks prior to starting treatment. And I felt depressed on some of the days where I did not use the system.

Here's what surprised me: Throughout the winter I went hiking in direct sunlight for 3 hours each day. And my office had really big windows with unobstructed view of the Sky. And that still wasn't enough to fix depression. By adding 6h of light therapy per day on top of that, my winter depression vanished.

I am amazed that such a simple, cheap and side-effect-free intervention has such a big effect. On top of that, such whole-room illumination is really pleasant subjectively and makes me feel as if I'm sitting outside. When friends suffer from SAD, light therapy is the first thing recommend.

Woo! Congratulations.

I just thought I'd return here a few months later to add an update for people who may be considering building their own lamp.

Having built my own lamp with 6000K LEDs that are not designed specifically for SAD treatment, I have found that it does tan my skin and create a feeling of sensitivity.

On doing some research, it seems that purpose-built SAD lamps filter out the UV part of the spectrum.

This seems like an important consideration for anyone who may be planning on building their own.

For my own filter, I am considering buying some UV blocking film! Hopefully this will solve the problem.

What do people think about the effects of such bright light on skin? I have heard anecdotally that some SAD lights can cause sunburn. The long term oxidative effects may not be desirable, either aesthetically in terms of skin ageing, or for health in terms of skin cancer risk. 

The health effects of stress/loneliness/depression and sheer subjective misery are powerful counter-arguments regardless.

I'm currently in the middle of building a light setup based on this one by David Chapman of Meaningness. Wearing sunscreen is one option I've been considering! Would be interested to hear if anyone has experiences to share.

I think sunburns are usually caused by UV light, and normal indoor LED lighting shouldn't put out much UV even at high intensity.

Hi Korin, in case it's of any interest I did eventually find that I will need to filter my home made SAD lamp using UV blocking film or similar. Purpose built SAD lamps come with built in filtration. Just a heads up in case. See this comment.

I experimented with using a very powerful halogen bulb (double envelope for safety) positioned as close as possible to my face and it seemed to work quite well, it really did feel like a summer afternoon if I closed my eyes. It’s a remarkably simple thing to do too so developing a more convenient system would seem to be highly useful. 

You mentioned in the pre-print that results were "similar" for the two color temperatures, and referred to the Appendix for more information, but it seems like the Appendix isn't included in your pre-print. Are you able to elaborate on how similar results in these two conditions were? In my own personal exploration of this area I have put a lot of emphasis on color temperature. Your study makes me adjust down the importance of color temperature, although it would be good to get more information.

Great job on this paper.

I'm trying to replicate the experimental set-up at home, anyone know what kind of string lamp to buy? All the ones I've seen seem to not be bringht enough, but maybe I've done the Lumen/watt/volt conversion wrong...

There are 2 basic approaches to the lumenator thing:

  1. get premade super-high-lumen lights. These are often sold for use in garages or on vehicles when off-roading at night. If you get vehicle lights, you may need a special power supply, but garage or workshop lights just plug into the wall. Even with these, you'll probably need several if you want the total light output to approach a sunny summer day.

  2. Get a lot of e26 sockets, and a corresponding number of high-lumen e26 bulbs. That's where the "string lamps" often come in -- the 50-foot "cafe light" strands can offer the sockets you need. However, they will never be summer-sunshine-bright out of the box if they come with bulbs, or even if you stick regular household bulbs into them. Bulb shopping is a rabbit hole; there are a lot of options in terms of lumens per bulb, color temp, and CRI (color rendering index).

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