You Can Do Something about Winter Blues

When the days grow shorter and tempuratures fall, many people find themselves getting grumpy, irritable, or just plain sad.  For some people, these feelings are a mild annoyance. For others, they can cause major disruption in work, relationships, and/or physical health. If your winter moods are bad enough to impair your ability to function, you need to talk to your doctor. If you're having mild symptoms, you might want to look into blue light therapy with a commercially-available light box.

How Blue Light Therapy Works

Though doctors and scientists still don’t know exactly how blue light therapy works, they do know it helps with both mild winter blues and more serious conditions such as Seasonal Affective Disorder and clinical depression. The prevailing theory is that bright, blue-tinted light (like that which comes from the summer sky) signals the brain to produce serotonin, a neurotransmitter that helps regulate the sleep-wake cycle. Adequate serotonin production is thought to help you feel alert, calm, and content. When you aren’t getting enough natural daylight, blue light therapy can make up the difference.

Advantages Over Other Treatments

Though sometimes antidepressant medication is necessary (and in the case of suicidal depression, even life-saving), it can produce bothersome side effects such as dry mouth, agitation, or appetite changes. Blue light therapy doesn’t typically cause any side effects, is safe for most people, and usually doesn’t interact with other medications. Also, once you have purchased a light box, blue light therapy is free.

Advantages Over Other Types of Light Therapy

Blue light isn’t the only type of light treatment out there. A more traditional approach relies on white light produced by bright fluorescent bulbs. This type of light therapy works, but the light boxes are both bulky and expensive. Blue light therapy boxes typically use LEDs. This makes them more compact (mine is about the size of a CD case), so you can use them wherever you are. They can run from $20 to $200, while white light boxes often start at $300.

Choosing A Light Box

If you’ve decided to give blue light therapy a go, you have a lot of options to choose from. My first (inexpensive) light therapy box contained naked LEDs, and would really hurt my eyes if I looked at it directly (you usually use these boxes at a 45-degree angle). It also died in a week. I didn’t cheap out the next time. I recommend the Phillips GoLite Blue. It has smoked glass over the LEDs, which helps reduce eye-strain. Mine has adjustable light settings, a timer, and a battery-powered, portable mode, which I also find useful.


The information presented in this article is not intended to replace the advice of a trained physician or mental health professional. Always speak to your doctor before beginning this or any medical treatment.

The author has received no compensation from the Phillips company for recommending their products. Recommendations are based on personal experience only.

Winter Blues: A Chilly Cityscape
Credit: Image ID# 1381836