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Public transport providers guarded over fatigue-busting light therapy

One in five adults in Finland experiences severe symptoms related to the gloomy polar night period known as "kaamos".

Pitkänmatkanjuna lähdössä Helsingin rautatieasemalta.
Image: Henrietta Hassinen / Yle

The use of light therapy lamps in public transportation could help combat the seasonal fatigue many people experience during the dark days of autumn and winter, according to National Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) researcher Timo Partonen.

Professor Partonen has suggested that public transportation vehicles could be fitted with light therapy lamps, especially for passengers commuting to work. He added that the lights have been proven to be an effective treatment to reduce the symptoms of seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

On the THL website, Partonen provided a series of tips (in Finnish) for combating the low moods that often come during the annual gloom of the polar nights when there are far fewer hours of sunlight, especially in northern Finland. He noted that the main reason that the season (called kaamos) creates fatigue and depression is that it disrupts sleep patterns – when people do not rest properly, they feel weary.

In one instance, he recommends spending time near a light therapy lamp for between 30 and 60 minutes daily, with the best time for the treatment being before 9 am.

According to Partonen, one in five adults in Finland experiences severe symptoms related to the polar nights, while about two percent experience depression at this time of year.

Not for everyone

Helsinki City Transport (HKL) CEO Ville Lehmuskoski said that he is cautiously positive about the idea of installing light therapy lamps in city vehicles.

"I think this is a rather interesting proposal and it's probably worth looking into if health care professionals have brought it up," Lehmuskoski said.

He said that he understands the discussion about light therapy, because Finland experiences more dark months than many other countries.

"It's not possible to directly say that this should be done or that the matter should be taken forward, but this is an issue that is worth investigating with health care professionals," the HKL chief hedged.

Salla Ketola, sales and customer experience director for state-owned rail services company VR said she is also cautiously optimistic about using light therapy in mass transit vehicles.

"This sounds very interesting. However when it comes to public transportation, not everyone will want to be around a light therapy lamp. This could be something worth trying at some point," Ketola added.

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