It’s 5:30 a.m. My alarm clock rings insistently. Half asleep, I stumble into the kitchen with two thoughts in mind: Peet’s French roast coffee and my Litebook Elite.
Litebook Elite? The Litebook Elite is one of many light-therapy products currently available on the market. According to the product’s website, http://www.litebook.com/, this small device emits “an astonishingly bright yet safe beam of light with a specific combination of wavelengths identical to the peak wavelengths of the sun.”
The Litebook is small, rechargeable and portable. Although recommended light-therapy usage varies with the individual, my approach is typical — one half hour per day, first thing in the morning. You can use it while eating breakfast, checking email or getting ready for work.
As we all know, especially during the winter months, Seattleites can be sun deprived. Seattle averages 201 cloudy days per year.1 On January 1, the sun rose at 7:58 a.m. and set at 4:29 p.m., offering us only eight hours and 31 minutes of daylight.2
As hard-working attorneys, many of us drive to our offices in the morning darkness and leave work in the evening to again drive home in the dark. Not only can our lack of sunlight cause a mild case of winter blues, but it can bring on a full-blown case of Seasonal Affective Disorder (aptly abbreviated SAD).
The typical symptoms of SAD include depression, lack of energy, increased need for sleep, a craving for sweets and weight gain. These symptoms may become debilitating and can have a negative impact on an attorney’s health and practice. Approximately 70–80% of SAD sufferers are women, with a typical onset occurring in the 30s.3
Although I lack data to back up this claim, I strongly suspect that attorneys in general may be more susceptible to SAD than other professionals because of our long work hours and general predisposition toward depression. Researchers at John Hopkins University discovered statistically significant elevations of major depressive disorder in only three of 104 occupations examined. When adjusted for sociodemographics, lawyers topped the list, suffering from depression at a rate 3.6 times higher than other employed persons.4
Since our “double whammy” of climate and profession places us in particular risk, I believe all King County attorneys, particularly women, should be conscious of whether they are experiencing symptoms associated with the winter blues or a more serious case of SAD.
Even if you have a mild case of the winter blues, light therapy can be an effective way to combat the symptoms. Light therapy involves daily exposure to high-intensity, artificial sunlight (full-spectrum light minus the ultraviolet).5 If you find yourself lethargic, craving coffee throughout the day and dreaming of Hawaii, why not give light therapy a try? Light therapy, particularly when coupled with a healthy exercise program, might make a big difference in your energy level and mood.
When embarking on a light-therapy program, here are some recommendations to consider:
- Intensity. Find a light box that offers you the right intensity of light at a comfortable seating distance, so that you’ll like it and be able to incorporate it easily into your daily life.
- Minimal ultraviolet exposure. Look for devices that produce as little ultraviolet (UV) light as possible, since that light can be damaging.
- Light direction. Verify that the light box can be positioned so that the light comes from above your line of sight, not at it or below it.
- Blue light. Minimize exposure to the blue light spectrum, which may cause vision problems such as glare or macular degeneration.
- Cost. Prices vary greatly, from about $200 to $500, and may be covered by health insurance.
- Style. Some light boxes look like upright lamps, while others are small and rectangular.
- Convenience. Search for a portable light box that easily fits the desired location in your home or office.6
Stacey L. Romberg, Attorney at Law, when not drinking Peet’s French roast coffee and enjoying artificial morning rays, can be found practicing business law, estate planning and probate. She can be reached at www.staceyromberg.com.
1 Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rain.
3 “Seasonal Affective Disorder: Winter Depression,” Carol E. Watkins, M.D., Northern County Psychiatric Associates, http://www.ncpamd.com/seasonal.htm.
4 “Why are Lawyers so Unhappy?” by Martin E.P. Seligman, Ph.D., www.lawyerswithdepression.com.
5 “Light Therapy for Treating SAD.” www.4therapy.com
6 “Seasonal affective disorder treatment: Choosing a light therapy box,” from Mayoclinic. com, Special to CNN.com, http://www.cnn.com/HEALTH/library/DN/00013.html.
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Reprinted from March 2009, King County Bar Association Bulletin, by Stacey Romberg