HappyLights stave off winter blues as temperatures drop

Over the course of a month, a DI reporter checked out a HappyLamp from the University of Iowa in attempts to beat wintertime sadness. Here’s what she found.


Emily Wangen

Photo illustration by Emily Wangen

Naomi Hofferber, Arts Reporter

Ever since sophomore year, the wintertime seems to hit me hard. After the high of Halloween, the weather turns for the worse. The days get shorter and shorter, and the inevitable sense of unease starts to grow.

I don’t particularly hate winter – I love winter sports, and am fond of the coziness that comes along with wintertime ―but there’s something about looking out on the gray, flat Iowa horizon that brings a certain type of desolation into my bones.

This year, in lieu of trying to muscle through the early bouts of winter sadness, I checked out a HappyLight, a lamp designed to help with seasonal depression, and decided to give it a try.

Plugging it in, a blast of white light washes deep into my soul, bringing with it a slight sense of joy. Leaving for a trip in early November, I had plugged the light in before my five hour drive with my best friend; she compared to light to turning on the sun.

Patrick Rossman, a Behavioral Health Consultant for Student Health and Wellness, explained how the lightboxes work.

“The light box provides a more intense light, and what it’s doing is sending signals through the brain,” Rossman said. “You’re getting that light when typically in the winter you’re not getting it, and what it’s doing is affecting brain chemistry; melatonin, serotonin, things that affect sleep, things that affect mood, and it counteracting the effect of less light.”

This is the second year that the University of Iowa has offered light boxes to students, after an effort from UISG took place to offer light therapy to students for free.

Related: Opinion: What you need to know to navigate seasonal depression

“Many universities offer light therapy lamps for Seasonal Affective Disorder and my predecessor, Micah, collaborated with UCS and Student Wellness to bring it to our campus last year,” UISG Director of Health and Safety Aastha Chandra said in an email to The Daily Iowan. “Counseling services here and at other universities are facing increased demand from students, with depression being one of the top reasons students seek help.”

The light box program expanded significantly this year following last year’s success. Last year, 120 students checkout out lights, and this year, 112 have already checked out a light box, with winter still set to linger for around three more months.

“At the end of last year, we assessed it, saw that it was effective, that students benefited from it, and so we asked UISG if there was more funding to buy more lamps, and so we basically doubled our inventory,” Rossman said.

In addition to offering more lights, students can also check them out up to a month of light therapy at a time.

Over the month of having the HappyLight, it did help me feel more awake and better about tackling the winter. Mornings where the thought of getting out of bed seemed like the biggest challenge were met with a 10,000 lux blast. On nights where the sun set at five, a blast from the HappyLight made me feel well enough to venture back outside into the dark, to go to the gym, or go out with friends.

While I do try many methods to keep myself fully functioning in the winter, from Vitamin D supplements, to attempting to keep a regular sleep schedule, the HappyLight is easily my new favorite tool in my arsenal in battling the wintertime blues.