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Leeds introduce light cafe for union

Leeds University Union are introducing bright light sessions for students as of late January to reduce seasonal affective disorder

Leeds University Union has opened a new light café, sponsored by Lumie. This will provide a calm space for students to use a bright light for 20 to 30 minute sessions, either while studying or relaxing.

The light café will also offer sessions on meditation and mindfulness, as well as hot drinks. The timing is designed to coincide with the launch of the International Year of Light in Paris and also to help students at a time of year when they struggle most with their energy and motivation.

Lumie is providing 15 bright lights for use in the light café, ranging from compact lights for home use to lights that provide a natural energy boost. Regular sessions with bright light can make a difference to those who suffer from seasonal affective disorder (SAD); it has been shown to immediately increase levels of alertness, boost mood and improve cognitive performance.

From September onwards, up to 24% of us start to feel the onset of ‘winter blues’ and this continues until April, with the lowest point typically being in January. Of the 24%, around 7% of Northern Europeans are so badly affected by SAD that they struggle to function normally. The main symptoms are sleep problems, overeating, depression, family or social problems, lethargy, joint pain and behavioural problems.

SAD is caused by the lack of bright light in winter. Daybreak light is the signal for the pineal gland to stop producing the sleep hormone melatonin, however, in winter, the light level is insufficient to trigger this process.

Lumie’s lights deliver between 2,000 and 10,000 lux, helping the body clock get back to normal. In context, on a bright day but not in direct sunlight, the level of brightness ranges from 10,000 to 25,000 lux. In direct sunlight that goes up from 32,000 to 100,000 lux. By contrast, the level of light in a family living room is usually around 50 to 200 lux.

Freya Govus, welfare officer at Leeds University Union, said: “At the Student Advice Centre, we have seen an increase in the number of students disclosing issues with depression, mental health and low mood and these problems are particularly acute at this time of year. I am therefore keen to offer sessions that are fun, interactive and easy to access. If the project is successful I would hope to run this each year in the winter months.’ 

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