Light therapy: home cures for darker days and the science behind it

As the nights draw in and the morning sunlight streaming through the window becomes a distant memory, the dull days of winter can affect our mood. Light is powerful and, for some, the lack of it can sap away our happy feelings. While the jury is still out on what exactly causes SAD (seasonal affective disorder), experts believe that the light reduction affects a part of the brain called the hypothalamus. In turn, this reduces the production of the hormones melatonin, responsible for regulating sleep, and seratonin, known as the happy hormone. Sunlight has the power to regulate our circadian rhythms too. It’s these rhythms that trigger our body and brain’s sleep/wake patterns, and if these get disrupted it can also lead to an expression of SAD symptoms, including low mood, irritability, sleeping more than usual and craving comfort foods. To keep your mood lifted, here are SAD-busting ideas to try...

Try light therapy

Light therapy is something you can try at home with a special light box designed to tackle SAD. According to the Mayo Clinic there are three key things to bear in mind when selecting a light box and carrying out a session at home.


1) Intensity

Measured in lux, you want a light box that is 10,000 lux placed at a distance of 41-61cm from your face.


2) Duration

Aim for 20-30 minutes. If your light is lower-intensity than 10,000 lux then you’ll want to adjust the time accordingly, but as with anything it’s best to follow the product instructions.


3) Timing

Most people get best results when they carry out a light session first thing but your doctor will be able to advise you best.


Alternatively, you could get a light alarm clock (Philips make very good ones) that wakes you up by mimicking a sunrise in your bedroom. This will wake you up gradually and give you a dose of light, too. And, as many of us know, try to limit exposure to blue light devices or switch to night mode one-two hours before bed.


Get outside

Try to prioritise getting outside when it’s sunny, the sun in autumn and winter may not be as strong but it can still have the power to help you feel happy. In fact, even on cloudy days getting outside first thing in the morning can really help boost your mood and reduce feelings of anxiety and stress. Try sitting outside with your morning cuppa or walking to work (even if it’s only part of the way).


Supplement for sunshine, sleep and smiles

In an ideal world, we would get all our nutrients from our diet but in autumn and winter give yourself a helping hand by strategically factoring in some supplements. Vitamin D (also found in oily fish, egg and cheese) is also known as the sunshine vitamin so this should be a priority during the darker months. If you’re having trouble sleeping, try supplementing with magnesium (also found in pumpkin seeds, almonds and spinach), it’s a mineral that can help you relax and drift off. Tryptophan (found in protein-foods, oats and bananas) is a precursor of the happy hormone serotonin, so try supplementing if your mood is low.


With any supplement, it’s worth consulting with a doctor or dietician to find out whether it’s right for you and how much you should take.

Lean on scent

Citrus scents are believed to be incredibly uplifting, so start your day with a mood-boosting product like The Ritual of Happy Mehr Shower Foam and keep the Hair & Body Mist in your handbag or on your desk for a quick pick-me-up throughout the day.


Embrace cosiness

In the Netherlands, where Rituals was born, there is a special word - gezellig, that is often used during the autumn and winter months. It doesn’t have an exact English translation but describes a cosy and enjoyable place, person or occasion. Typically, it’s used to conjure up the idea of, or to describe, a candlelit place where you’re enjoying good food, great conversation and laughter with friends.


One study actually found that mood lighting put people in a more relaxed state, whereas bright light could cause people to feel moods more intensely be it happy, sad, angry or otherwise. Try to create as many gezellig moments this autumn/winter. Filling your home with scented candles are a good place to start. 


Try a sun salutation

Sun salutations are a practice in yoga where you pay reverence towards the sun. Start your day with our guided energising sun salutation video.


Amy Lawrenson

Amy Lawrenson

Amy Lawrenson is a UK beauty editor with over 13 years of experience writing for magazines and websites including ELLE, Grazia, Women's Health and Byrdie. She has a keen interest in all things beauty and wellness, especially skincare because who doesn't want a clear, glowing complexion?