How This One Change Improved My Sleep, Boosted My Mood, and Mellowed Me Out

One Real Simple editor has the bright idea of going under mood lights.

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Photo by Comstock Images/Getty Images

I am not an inherently grouchy person. But I am a New Yorker, with all that implies: harried pace, cramped spaces, overly pressured job, nowhere near enough sleep. I head into my office in the morning and do not emerge until long after what most folks consider dinnertime. The sun is an elusive companion.



So I volunteered to do light therapy. What would a week of sitting under an artificial mood light do for me?

Day 1

It should be noted right off that I do not conduct this experiment under ideal conditions. I opt to set up the light (Carex Health Brands Day-Light Sky Bright Light Therapy Lamp, $210; amazon.com) on my office desk rather than lug it home, which means that it sits jammed between my computer and my phone. That also means that I won’t be getting my dose of wattage first thing in the morning—and only on weekdays.

Putting the lamp together is easy; five minutes, tops. Its oversized head and bright beam remind me of the powerful lighting rigs on the TV and movie sets that pop up on Manhattan’s streets. I plug away at my work while trying to adjust to the flood of faux sunshine directed at my face. When I hit the off switch a little over half an hour later, the sudden darkness is disconcerting. Mood change? Hard to tell. But I sleep like a baby that night. Though in all fairness, that could also be due to the two glasses of rosé I down at a friend’s dinner party.

Day 2

I flip the switch of the lamp as soon as I sit down at my desk, but then realize that I need to have cold water at hand to sip on while under the light. Filling up my bottle in the pantry down the hall, I run into a friend. “What are you up to?” she says. “Light therapy,” I say. “Lite therapy?” she says. “What, you talk to the therapist for only, like, half an hour?” We had a giggle. Ah, New Yorkers. We love our therapy.

Back in my office, I settle in under the light, which already seems less intrusive. But when another friend sticks her head in as she passes in the hallway, I think, “Don’t interrupt my light therapy!!! If I talk to you, I have to turn my head, which means the light won’t be beaming into my eyes, which means I’m not getting all the juice I need!!! Talk to me later!!!

Hmm. I may need more than a week under this thing.

Day 3

Over the years, I have fallen into some very bad sleep habits. Very bad. Since I rarely get home before 9:30 or so, whether because I’ve gone out after work or because I’ve worked late, I cram a lot into the last few hours of the day. Check the news online. Answer e-mails. Sort mail. Return phone calls. Sometimes even eat dinner. Which is all to say that I generally don’t crawl into bed until midnight, and frequently even an hour or so later.  And then I get up at 7:00 and start all over again.

What I noticed the past two nights: I was ready to call an end to the day much earlier, whether I had finished all my usual tasks or not. And I would wake up earlier, too, feeling more refreshed. A fluke? The power of suggestion? We’ll see.