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Thursday 4th December 2003
Anyone got a light?
Words: Bren O'Callaghan
Light Visor
The BioBrite Light Visor

S.A.D. (Seasonal Affective Disorder) is a type of winter depression that affects an estimated half a million people within the UK.

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SAD Association
National Light Hire Co.

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Although the exact cause is still unclear, it's thought to be the result of a chemical imbalance due to the shortening of daylight hours and restriction of sunlight at this time of year.

City skyline
Early nights and gloomy mornings

Perhaps better known as the 'winter blues', symptoms include a desire to oversleep, fatigue, a craving for sweet foods, increased anxiety, loss of libido and inability to cope with tension.

Many more suffer from sub-syndromal SAD whereby symptoms are mild and characterised by a general tiredness. But for others it can be a crippling illness that if not treated can lead to depression and even suicidal tendencies.

Phototherapy, or the use of powerful light boxes to simulate the effects of daylight for short periods during each day, has proved to be the most successful form of treatment in up to 85% of cases.

Portable lightbox
Portable lightbox

Husband and wife team Philip and Beverley Bunting run the National Light Hire Company in Southport, offering the world's largest selection of lightboxes.

"Light is measured by luminous intensity, or lux," explains Philip, a community pharmacist.

"Normal lightbulbs just aren't bright enough, (emitting only 200 - 500 lux). The minimum dose necessary to treat SAD is 2,500 lux.

"When you consider that a bright summers day may peak at 100,000 lux, you can appreciate just how low winter levels really are."

Products also include plug-in desktop columns, alarm clocks that simulate dawn rising and the BrioBrite Light Visor - a version of which is used by astronauts aboard the International Space Centre.

Winter road
It's no fun getting to and from work at this time of year

SAD cases are extremely rare in those living within 30 degrees of the Equator, but become progressively worse the further away.

In Scandinavia, which is subject to almost total darkness in the depths of winter, selected cafes give new meaning to the term 'light fare' by offering patrons the use of a light box during meals.

Several Hilton Hotels in the US fit the same within rooms to aid passengers with jet lag, having been found to help reset a person's internal body clock.

Sarah Millington
Sarah Millington

"We've found that SAD also affects those who work in buildings or offices with no windows," says Beverley in relation to their year-on-year increase in customer enquries.

She herself suffers from the condition following the return of her family to the UK from Australia.

"Dark living conditions can be a problem, such as ground floor flats or shift workers who may not be exposed to daylight for weeks at a time."

We tested the light visor on the streets of Liverpool where chemist Sarah Millington and multimedia developer Sam Thomas braved the stares of passers-by.

"I work long hours in a laboratory with no windows, so during winter I don't see daylight except on weekends," says Sarah.

Sam Thomas

Sam Thomas

"I'd be willing to try anything that might perk me up a bit although I'd probably use something like this visor in secret!"

Sam agrees, admitting that the chilly weather causes him to become a bit fed up.

"Anything that eliminates the need for alcohol before going to work can only be a good thing!"

Information on SAD can be sought from the Seasonal Affective Disorder Association.


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