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Swedish Students Get Light Therapy To Combat Winter’s All-Day Darkness

What happens when a whole town gets depressed?

Residents of Umea, Sweden could be forgiven for getting a little cranky and tired in the winter. The city gets an average of 0.8 hours of sunlight each day during December, and on rainy days, there’s sometimes no sunlight at all.

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At least kids in the local high school are getting a boost of wintertime energy. Umea Energi, the local energy company, has provided 140 light therapy lamps to the Dragonskolan school, where teenagers who are already prone to getting tired in the afternoon have to also compete with the prospect of near-total darkness outside. All of the energy for the lamps, which are installed in the school’s classrooms and cafeteria, comes from solar power stored up during the summer. (This past year, Umea had 915 hours of sunlight between June and August, making it one of Sweden’s sunniest cities.)

“We had an overstock of solar electricity. We thought, why not give back to the school children and have the opportunity to discuss the sustainable future?,” says Agneta Filen, the company’s marketing director.

When Umea first installed the lamps at Dragonskolan a few weeks ago, students and teachers were worried they might overheat under the bright lights. That hasn’t happened. “I met a teacher today who said ‘I wish I could turn them up more in the classroom while I’m preparing for class,'” says Filen. Rasmus Oberg, a student at Dragonskolan says that he hasn’t noticed any difference, good or bad, so far. But he’s hopeful; the wintertime darkness causes his energy to drag, and during the precious few hours each week that Umea get sunlight, he’s usually inside at school.

“They’ve been installed a week, and I’m sure in time we’ll definitely see a change,” he says. “With a normal lamp, it’s easy to get tired or fall asleep, but with these new lamps, it’s like you’re out in the natural sunlight. They are quite significantly brighter than a normal lamp. Looking at the lamps would be like staring into the sun.”

This the second time that Umea Energi has tried to cheer up the city’s residents during the winter. In 2012, the energy company installed overhead light therapy panels in 30 bus stops.

About the author

Ariel Schwartz is a Senior Editor at Co.Exist. She has contributed to SF Weekly, Popular Science, Inhabitat, Greenbiz, NBC Bay Area, GOOD Magazine and more.

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