So you’ve been known to take your frustrations out on a patch of weeds. Or, sometimes, you simply steal a quiet moment, hoe in hand, with your face turned up to the sun. Who hasn’t? For many of us, gardening is excellent therapy. But, with our super-short days and the ground frozen solid, some avid gardeners may be putting a psychologist or two on speed dial by now.
It all makes perfect sense to Neal Owens. The president of The SunBox Company, Owens believes people have photoperiods not unlike those of plants, and some of us are more sensitive to the changing seasons than others. “I was one of the first guinea pigs for the clinical research on seasonal affective disorder and the winter blues,” he explained.
Owens copes with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD); the National Institute of Mental Health suggests (SAD) affects about 15 million people in the United States. It usually occurs during the fall and winter months, but it can also be brought on by prolonged exposure to especially dark work environments. Some SAD symptoms include overeating, oversleeping, and feelings of fatigue and lethargy.
Light therapy is one of the best ways to treat the condition, and, for some especially SAD gardeners, indoor gardening with supplemental lighting just might help. But, first, it’s important to keep in mind that the intensity of light rather than the type is what’s most important for SAD patients.
To help himself and others, Owens founded The SunBox Company which developed light boxes for clinical research and now sells them commercially. “The intensity has to be about 15 or 20 times brighter than normal home or office lighting. You need to get the intensity up to 1,000 foot candles or 10,000 lux of light intensity in order for it to be considered therapeutic,” Owens said.
To mitigate some of the chemical changes brought about in the brain by seasonal changes, patients typically sit very close to the therapeutic lighting for about 20 minutes a day during the darker months. “Clinically it’s now been proven. For those people who do suffer, there’s no doubt that this works,” Owens said.
So does that mean full-spectrum indoor garden lighting can be used to treat symptoms of SAD? Yes and no. While indoor garden light systems such as the Satellite II full-spectrum fluorescent fixture from Sunleaves do emit the same kind of light as many types of therapeutic light boxes, the light they emit is even more intense.
As with therapeutic light boxes, the Satellite II does not emit harmful ultraviolet light, but, equipped with two full-spectrum TT-105 bulbs, the fluorescent does put out 21,000 lumens. That’s about 20 times the light intensity of light-therapy fixtures!
That high intensity makes the Satellite II well-suited for seed starting—and even growing plants indoors to maturity—but it isn’t a good idea to stare directly at such strong light. Rather, would-be gardeners can grow fresh herbs and greens indoors—and reap any therapeutic benefits from a distance—while they wait for the sunnier months to come.
Worm’s Way, a hydroponics and organic gardening retailer, Master Gardener Lydia Anderson, and Susan M. Brackney, author of The Insatiable Gardener’s Guide, continually work to inform and inspire year-round gardeners. For more information on earth-friendly gardening indoors and out, visit www.wormsway.com.