A blog by runners. For runners.

Are the shorter days making you feel sluggish? Consider light therapy.


The benefits of light therapy for runnersAs the days get shorter, it can be challenging to find daylight hours to squeeze our runs into. While running in the dark can be an interesting experience, the lack of sun causes many of us to feel sluggish and lethargic. Studies show it also disrupts our sleep quality, lowers our mood, and reduces our desire for physical activity. This happens because our circadian rhythm – e.g., the body’s natural tiredness/alertness mechanism which relies heavily on light to determine how we should feel at a given time – is out of whack. 

If you find yourself struggling to wake up in the morning, dragging your heels by the afternoon, or unable to face the thought of going for your daily run, you might want to consider investing in a light box (aka a daylight lamp).

How do light boxes work?
Light boxes, as their name would suggest, mimic natural light – although in much more concentrated doses than if you’re just sitting outside. These lamps deliver visible light to your retinas, which directly signals to your circadian “clock”, a group of nerve cells in the hypothealamus called the suprachiasmatic nucleus or SCN. This clock then stops your body from producing tiredness-inducing melatonin, which can boost your alertness and your mood. Using the lamp on a regular basis can help to keep your energy levels stable – and just one session in the morning can help you feel energetic throughout the whole day so you can still fit in that afternoon run.

How to use it
If you’re interested in trying it out, the general recommendation for light boxes is to start with a short session (around 15 minutes) once per day, shortly after waking up, ideally while it is still dark outside. Simply position the lamp a few feet away from your face (the distance depends on the manufacturer’s specifications), so that the light can enter your eyes indirectly, and go about your morning – read a book, brush your hair, or enjoy a cup of coffee. See how you feel, and gradually increase the length of time you spend in front of the lamp if you feel you could get more benefits from it.

It can be annoying trying to fit 15 minutes or longer of sitting still into your morning, but often it’s just a matter of rearranging your morning ritual slightly to put a few stationary activities together. Or consider setting up your lamp at your desk at work, if your workspace allows for it! And trust me, if you suffer from winter energy drain, the benefits can far outweigh the inconvenience. I find myself getting up earlier in the winter just to use the lamp.

If you’re interested in buying a light box, here are some guidelines for choosing one. Note: if you are sensitive to bright lights or sunlight in any way, it’s a good idea to talk to your doctor first.

Have you ever tried light box therapy? Share your story in the comments below!

Written by Varia Makagonova.