Published on March 16th, 2011 | by Greg0
Stay Bright Even When It Isn’t
San Francisco boasts plenty of positives, and the weather is among them. It’s usually mild, and parts can be quite sunny most of the year. But there is plenty of fog, and the overcast skies and regular rainy season can make for some dampened spirits. Urban environments also have their own downsides, and a lack of windows, skylights, and other natural light sources can mean that city dwellers spend their days without a lot of sun. Even if you don’t feel the need to see a doctor, it’s easy to tell when you are suffering from a bout with seasonal affective disorder. It might sound a bit silly, but several peer-reviewed studies have backed up the extremely positive effects from light, on both mental and physical health. Nonetheless, these are not medical devices.
We’ve been trying out three systems that each claim to help brighten up your days- the Verilux HappyLight 6000, NatureBright Per3, and Uplift Daylight DL930. These lamps each offer the same basic benefits, helping to beat the “winter blues” as well as jet lag. Whether it’s at home, or in the office, a daylight simulating lamp can work wonders.
The cheapest, and least bright, of today’s set is the Verilux HappyLight 6000. This unit provides, as you might guess from the name, 6000 LUX, whereas the other two units in our set produce 10000. The difference is mainly in how long you need to sit near the lamp to provide the full benefits, and it also depends on your distance from the lamp itself. We’ve seen recommendations of about one foot away, though this one’s guide suggested between 12-24 inches. The light does not need to face you directly, and you should certainly not stare directly near the lamp either, but it must be visible to your eyes. And it goes without saying, then, that your eyes should be open for the most benefit.
Optimal placement is important, as is timing. We experimented with various combinations of both, but the recommended usage is around two and a half hours at the start of the day for a lower power model like this one, at 18 inches away. If it’s hard to get that amount of time in, you might want to go with a larger and more expensive model- Verilux makes one- that can cut the time needed in half. But some is always better than none, and we found all of the units helpful, even with afternoon sessions of a shorter duration. Simply put it on during your morning newspaper reading, for instance, or next to your monitor and try different settings. And you can break up the time into smaller chunks or mini sessions; you don’t need to stay there continuously. All units suggest avoiding use at night, as it can interfere with sleep patterns.
We liked the Verilux unit for it’s small size and portability. It was the easiest to take on the go, and was also the smallest. This means that it is relatively easy to sit on a desk, for example, and is inconspicuous as it looks for the most part like a normal lamp. It doesn’t work so well, though, as a primary lighting source or a regular lamp. Two power levels are available, and the HappyLight 6000 is available widely for under $100.
For a bit more power, and a larger field of illumination, there is the Uplift Daylight DL930. This is a much larger device, and offers the expected upsides and downsides. You’ll need shorter required time in front of the lamp, but it’s much harder to take with you. It can work as a reading lamp reasonably well, but isn’t very attractive- it looks very distinctive and a bit clinical or like a professional photography lamp. The diffuser is great- similar to the HappyLight but more directed- and they recommend sitting around 11 inches away. You can choose from three height settings, which was nice, but this offers the most difficult setup and placement of the three. The light is directed downwards, in theory more effective as it mimics the sun’s direction, but we must say that we didn’t see much of a difference with directionality. At $140, this is priced similarly to our next unit, and the difference seems to be one of taste- some of our staff preferred the larger Uplift unit and didn’t mind the size. Others preferred something smaller, and a bit more directionally adjustable.
The NatureBright Per3 might not seem immediately appealing. It looks a bit like a cheap desk lamp, and comes in only one color/finish option that felt a bit odd to most of our staff. But it was the single most flexible, multi-use option and the one we kept coming back to. Unlike the other two options in this review, which use fluorescent bulbs, the Per3 uses LEDs. It also is unique in that it offers a built-in alarm clock, a feature that might seem a bit strange and unnecessary at first but turns out to make a big difference, as we will discuss in a moment. The recommended distance here is 20 inches, for use in fifteen to thirty minute intervals- less than the others, and at a more natural distance that was easy for us to work into our daily lives. Placement is simple, and though setup is a bit harder- we had to read the manual- there is a good reason.
The main advantage of the Per3 is that you can use it as a dawn simulator, helping to wake you up in the morning if natural light just isn’t bright enough. You can choose how long the intensity increases, but have to manually set the time- it would have been nice to be able to have it set to the actual known time or at least be adjustable based on it. You can also use the Per3 as a sunset light source, great for shift workers. And it isn’t too hard to pack away for travel or to bring to different places. It’s the most expensive of the three, slightly, at $146 or so available widely online. But it feels worth every penny, and helped keep us fresh and cheerful through fog and rain and wintry weather.