Here in the northern hemisphere, winter has wrapped us in her monochromatic prison. A solid deck of gray clouds means you need a clock to tell the difference between night and day, and by about the first week of February, it gets to feeling like you’ll never see a blue sky again. It’s depressing, to be honest, and the lack of sunlight can even lead to a mood disorder known as SAD, or seasonal affective disorder.
SAD therapy is deceptively simple — bright full-spectrum light, and lots of it, to simulate the sun and stimulate the lizard brain within us. Not surprisingly, such lights are available commercially, but when [Justin Lam] bought one to help with his Vancouver blues, he decided to analyze the lamp’s output to determine whether the $70 he spent paid for therapy or marketing.
The initial teardown was not encouraging, with what appeared to be a standard CFL “curly fry” light with a proprietary base in a fancy plastic enclosure. With access to a spectrometer, [Justin] confirmed that not only does the SAD light have exactly the same spectrum as a regular CFL, the diffuser touted to provide “full UV protection” does so simply by attenuating the entire spectrum evenly so that the UV exposure falls below the standards. In short, he found that the lamp was $70 worth of marketing wrapped around a $1.50 CFL. Caveat emptor.
Hats off to [Justin] for revealing the truth behind the hype, and here’s hoping he finds a way to ameliorate his current SAD situation. Perhaps one of these DIY lamps will be effective without the gouging.
As you know, winter is coming. For a lot of people this means that Seasonal Affective Disorder is beginning to set in. [Luke]’s mom already has a light therapy box. It’s one of those commercially available ones that uses fluorescent bulbs and leaves a lot to be desired in the full-spectrum light simulation department. [Luke] jumped on the opportunity to design a better one.
The standard of quality for light therapy units is a rating of 10,000 lux. While lux definitely matters, the rating is a misleading selling point when given on its own. One of the other important factors in mimicking the sun is the Color Rendering Index (CRI). CRI is basically a rating of the bulb’s ability to imitate the color reproduction of natural daylight. The ratings run from 0 to 100 but in reality, the highest-rated bulbs of any kind top out around 98.
For all the fluorescent bulb-bearing light therapy units out there, those bulbs have pretty low CRI ratings. [Luke]’s project page provides emission spectra graphs for a number of bulb types, and we can see how his choice of ceramic metal halide bulbs stacks up against fluorescent, incandescent, and LED bulbs. One of the few downsides to this type of bulb is that they have long startup times.
He ended up making two light therapy lamps, one of them directional and the other omni-directional. They both use ballast-controlled ceramic metal halide bulbs. The ballasts are necessary to provide the high starting voltage that these bulbs require. The omni-directional light is built into a large hurricane candle holder. A lamp holder is fixed into the base and wired to an external ballast box. The directional lamp is a self-contained unit, and [Luke] is happiest with this one. It’s flat and rugged so it can be placed on top of a bookcase and the light bounced off of the ceiling for pleasant, indirect coverage.
We’ve seen a couple of alarm-clock wakeup light builds here, and we’re thinking this would make an awesome mashup.