Larry Pederson, Litebook Founder
As a kid growing up in sunny southern Alberta, I never gave much thought to the impact light had on my health, or my wellbeing. In fact, other than the occasional nasty sunburn, I never gave it any thought.
Sunlight, indoor light, any kind of light was just that – light. What I do remember is that the summers were hot, the days were long, and my parents never saw me. I lived outside (except for the five minutes when I'd run in to eat before racing outside again).
Staying inside was seen as punishment for the very simple reason that inside there was nothing to do – no X-box, no DVD, (at the risk of dating myself, no VCR), not to mention no satellite TV, no computer, no Internet. My friends and I spent our waking hours outdoors looking for excitement and adventure (and on occasion, trouble).
Even in the winter, we played hockey on the outdoor rink for hours on end, no matter how numb our toes got. Tobogganing, skiing, snowball fights, always outside. Ironically, as it turns out, in addition to the obvious benefits from the regular exercise, we were also receiving our Mother Nature-prescribed, life-enhancing daily dose of sunlight. All natural, no preservatives sunlight. And we felt great.
It would be twenty years before I learned that I am one of the approximately 30% of Canadians who has SAD or the milder Winter Blues. (Fortunately, fifteen of those years were spent in sunny Southern California, where as a student at USC film school and later as a screenwriter, I lived a symptom-free healthy, active existence.) In the Fall of 1994, I found myself living back in Medicine Hat due to family illness, and as Fall became Winter, I experienced a radical drop in my energy, focus and mood, to the point where I thought I was losing my mind. The psychiatrist I saw, a family friend, drolly informed me that I was the 'poster boy' for SAD – to which I replied, "Gee, thanks, I feel much better now."
I politely declined her offer to put me on Prozac, and as luck would have it, this forward-thinking shrink invited me to try bright light therapy. At the time, I was a complete skeptic, "Sounds like snake-oil to me!" But I was also desperate. And the first day, as I sat in front of this big clunky 'light box' for a half hour, I felt like something was literally receding out of my body – to my amazement, my energy came back, the fog in my head cleared and suddenly, the glass was half-full again instead of half-empty. I felt like I was back in L.A. I dismissed my instant response as the 'placebo effect' – wishful thinking -- and stopped using the light. But my symptoms returned with a vengeance. So I switched it back on – and got my life back. (Only later did I come to understand that this powerful reaction to the bright light was due to two changes taking place in my body: the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin being suppressed and the 'feel-good' neurotransmitter serotonin being elevated.)
Today, the unfortunate truth is we are living in a light-deprived world and are paying for it with our health. A major study at UC San Diego by Dr. Dan Kripke, a prominent light therapy researcher, revealed that the average exposure to direct sunlight for adults ages 25-44 over a one year period was only 58 minutes/day – in San Diego, one of the sunniest spots on the planet! We're in the gym at six, in the office or store by eight, on the run all day – mostly inside – then back at home – inside again – glued to the tube or the monitor. Some call this 'progress' – and to be sure, in many ways it is. But the problem is we've progressed faster than we've evolved – we still have tailbones, after all – so it is no wonder that so many of us are suffering the effects of this new 'indoor' existence. (Light deprivation is linked now beyond mood and energy to performance, productivity and even the obesity epidemic.) This is not what Mother Nature intended for us. And we all know what happens when we don't heed Mother Nature...
The good news is that researchers in light therapy have made great strides in recent years in understanding the impact of light on our health and wellness, and there is an increasing awareness among the general population about the importance of getting enough light. The reality, however, is that we are not likely able to change our lifestyle significantly to go out and get the light we need on a daily basis. So bringing the light we need to us in the form of light therapy is the next best solution.
My own personal experience with how light can restore life has led to a new career with the invention of The Litebook® and the founding of a company whose mission it is to improve the quality of life for people world-wide through sharing knowledge of light therapy and providing innovative products with advanced LED technologies.
Thirty-five years ago I set out to become a doctor because I wanted to make a difference and enjoyed helping others. It is somehow ironic that today I'm working to do just that, in some small way, just by "turning on the light".
Perhaps Mother Nature will approve.
Larry Pederson is a long-time SAD sufferer and founder of The Litebook Company Ltd., an Alberta-based company that manufactures 'The Litebook®', a portable light therapy device.