Thursday, December 10, 2009

Lights Out on Winter Depression (SAD)

Two weeks ago one of my "full spectrum" bulbs went out in my kitchen. I immediately noticed a hit in my ability to push back Winter Depression over the next few days. Fortunately, I soon started turning my sleep schedule around to take advantage of daylight hours. Then when one of my readers asked me which types of bulbs to buy, I saw an opportunity.

Why just buy a replacement when I could stand in the middle of Target and take pictures of light bulbs for my blog while weirding out the Christmas shoppers?

A Sea of CFLs
So, with burnt CFL in pocket, I headed off to Target.

The first thing I noticed was that there were considerably more CFLs for sale than last year. In fact, there was a veritable CFL sea. I could see why a reader might find my descriptions of the light bulbs vague and confusing. Several thousand lightbulbs met my eye, maybe even millions, all only slightly different from each other. Clearly the lightbulb manufacturers of the world were sadists who were targeting those poor shlubs who suffered from decision anxiety.

Waitaminute! Daylight != Full Spectrum
As if that weren't bad enough, I located my lightbulb and discovered it was indeed listed as a "daylight" bulb, but it wasn't a full spectrum lightbulb. In fact, as far as I could see there were no full spectrum CFLs. That meant I'd been sending my readers out looking for cryptid lightbulbs.

It seems that true full spectrum light bulbs are rated at 5500 Kelvin with a high color index of 96 out of 100, which is considered noon day light. My bulbs are at 6500 Kelvin and give off a cool toned light very much like early morning light. Their color index is 82. Are you lost yet? I know I was. All these numbers can be bewildering.

First of all, color temperature in Kelvin is the measurement of what hue a light casts. The lower the Kelvin, the warmer the light is; the higher the Kelvin, the whiter and more pure the light is. Secondly, the color index indicates on a scale of 0 to 100 how true the light represents color, with 100 being the best and 20 being the lighting your hair stylist uses that colors your face ghastly yellow-green.

Full spectrum bulbs. An experiment for another day.To further complicate matters, I did find full spectrum bulbs, but their stats were so different from the CFLs that I might as well have been comparing anchovies to oranges.

I decided to go with the GE daylight bulb since that model had been working for me. However, this means that I have to reconsider what I've written about full spectrum lightbulbs previously. After Christmas, I will be experimenting with true full spectrum lightbulbs. I'm curious to see what difference they might make.

The question for now is did my daylight CFLs work, or was I taking an electronic placebo every time I flipped the switch? Considering that placebos can lose efficacy over a matter of weeks, I consider my year spent with daylight bright CFLs a good test. I can report that they have made a difference in the quality of my life. With them, Seasonal Affective Disorder (Winter Depressino) has been kept at bay. These lightbulbs are an inexpensive solution compared to other light therapy techniques and can be found at most supermarkets. The old adage may be true. You do get what you pay for, but I still recommend giving them a chance.