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Shine a light on the blues

TECHNOLOGY

Many people living in the Northern Hemisphere right now will be experiencing the winter blues. The colder, darker, shorter days can commonly cause a downward shift in mood. For some people, the winter blues can be severe and have a significant impact on their day-to-day life. That’s when the blues have crossed over into seasonal affected disorder, or SAD. Symptoms of SAD include feelings of lethargy, irritability, feelings of despair, guilt and worthlessness, tearfulness, low self-esteem, feeling stressed or anxious, a reduced sex drive, and a withdrawal from society.


A number of treatments are available for SAD including antidepressants, cognitive behavioural therapy, and light therapy. Light therapy involves parking yourself next to a light box — sometimes for hours on end. As Anna Pursglove writes for the Daily Mail, “For many, their inconvenience outweighs their usefulness. I tried one but found it impossible to slot into a busy day, as you have to sit close to it for an hour and something would always distract me.”

A Finnish tech firm may have found a solution: the HumanCharger. The device — dubbed “sun ears” — emits a calibrated white light that stimulates the photosensitive receptors of the brain. About the size of an iPod, the device, via a pair of earbuds, releases light through your ear canals directly to the regions of the brain that are light sensitive. Unlike light boxes, the device allows you to move about and you only have to wear the sun ears for 12 minutes a day.


According to the manufacturers, the product increases alertness, raises energy levels, and enhances mood. Scientific studies appear to back up the blurb. “Extraocular light modulated attention-related brain responses, specifically related to emotion-attention interaction. The study confirms that light is capable of penetrating the human skull via ear canals and reach the temporal lobe of the brain.”


So far so good in theory, but does the HumanCharger work in practice? Pursglove’s loved ones seem to think so. “My family agrees that I’m now brighter and, well, sunnier. When I was losing my temper yesterday over the kids arguing about piano practice, the 11-year-old was heard to mutter to her older brother: ‘Don’t worry, she’ll be all right once she switches her sun ears on.’”

ABOVE The sun ears in action. The green areas represent the light sensitive parts of the brain. ​

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