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.

Day 4

Dear Diary: It happened. I walked to work thinking, “I can’t wait to get under my lamp.” I think we’re starting to develop a real relationship.

Day 5

I go for three long days without my light, since I took Friday off, but my good mood holds steady. Maybe it was all the frolicking I did in the summer sunshine, maybe it was just my committed mind-set. Or maybe, just maybe, this light is the real deal.

At home late that night, I resolve a billing issue with my phone company calmly and satisfactorily. Repeat: calmly and satisfactorily. And that’s despite three attempts to straighten out the problem, having to retell my story repeatedly, being put on hold for half an hour only to be disconnected… You get the picture. And yet at no time do I feel that my mood is in danger of taking a serious turn southward.

Day 6

You want to know where things go wrong? I have an appointment I am late for, the subway is delayed, other passengers walk like they have allll theeee timeeee innnn theeee wooooorld. Within minutes I am muttering under my breath and gritting my teeth. Apparently no little light is a match for the New York City transit system.

Light: 0
Subway: 1

But I hit the gym before heading home and do my rotation without crabbing once about it (highly unusual; in fact, extraordinary—just ask my trainer). By the time I walk home, equanimity has been restored. All is once again right with the world.

Light: 1
Gym: 0

Day 7

I walk to work humming. Humming. In about half an hour, I’m going to turn off the light, pack it up, send it back to the nice PR folks who allowed me to borrow it, and thus end this experiment. But here’s the ultimate compliment to a test product: Tonight, I’m going to order up one of my very own.