Shari Bundt uses light therapy at the Health Discovery Center at Memorial Hospital on Tuesday. The service is newly available to hospital employees and will be available to the public next week.

Shari Bundt uses light therapy at the Health Discovery Center at Memorial Hospital on Tuesday. The service is newly available to hospital employees and will be available to the public next week. (Tribune Photo/SANTIAGO FLORES)

SOUTH BEND — As the snow continues piling up outside, people suffering from the "winter blues" could potentially benefit from a new indoor sanctuary, of sorts, at Memorial Hospital.

Memorial's Health Discovery Center, which is on the sixth floor at 100 Navarre Place, has added a light therapy room.


This week, it's available to Memorial employees, but beginning Monday, anyone can call and make an appointment.


And like some of the other services at the Health Discovery Center, it's absolutely free.


Light therapy has been shown to elevate the mood, though experts are quick to point out it doesn't work for everyone.


And people who think they might suffer from a mood disorder should ask their health care providers before beginning any new therapy.


Those using the service at Memorial can relax in a massage chair and listen to soothing music in a room with live plants and posters of beach scenes.


The light box is situated on the lap and tipped at a 15-degree angle about 12 inches from the face. Users are instructed to keep their eyes open, but not to look straight into the light.


Christy Erwin, a registered nurse and manager of the Health Discovery Center, said for best results, light therapy should be used for 20 to 30 minutes, early in the day, at least every other day.


Shari Bundt, a nurse at Memorial, was trying out the new light therapy room for the first time on Tuesday.


Bundt said she suffers from the blues every year at this time.


Wendy Settle, a staff psychologist at University Counseling Service at Notre Dame, said the latest research shows light therapy can be very effective at combating the "winter blues," which, she said, can include sluggishness, irritability, and the desire to overeat and sleep too much.


Light therapy has also been shown to benefit some people with seasonal affective disorder, the symptoms of which include depression.


Settle recommends daily use of light therapy and said most people will realize within three or four days if it's effective for them.


The light enters the iris and affects the pineal gland, she said, affecting melatonin levels and perhaps eventually serotonin levels.


"The theory is, light helps your body get energized," she said.


Of light therapy, Settle said it's extremely important to figure out when the best therapeutic time is for you.


She recommends checking out the Center for Environmental Therapeutics' website at
www.cet.org for more information on that.

Light therapy can also help people suffering from premenstrual dysphoric disorder, jet lag, certain sleep disorders and even bulimia.


And it can potentially even benefit people who exhibit no symptoms, but simply want to increase their moods, she said.


Besides light therapy, other tactics can help with the winter blues, Settle said, including getting out in the sun for walks or other types of exercise. And in the office, those who can sit by a window may benefit from the light, she said.