Longest, Darkest Winters Spark Odd Mood Boosters; Nordic Tricks to Fight Winter Blues: Special Headsets, Hilltop Mirrors

Longest, Darkest Winters Spark Odd Mood Boosters

Nordic Tricks to Fight Winter Blues: Special Headsets, Hilltop Mirrors


March 3, 2014 6:56 p.m. ET


Winter in Finland can be stubbornly long—and dark.

It is the type of weather than can make a person feel mentally sluggish and just plain blue. It can lead to the more serious seasonal affective disorder (SAD). It has spawned businesses across Scandinavia and Iceland to offer relief including some odder-sounding efforts.

Some people sit a few minutes a day in front of therapeutic lamps, which have been proven to help in studies. Other fixes range from light-emitting headphones to new daylight savings times to mirrors on hill tops.

Light in the Skull

Developed in Finland, a €199 ($270) device called the Valkee looks like a set of headphones. It shoots light into the ear canals to shine on the inside of a person’s skull. It was created by Juuso Nissila, who wrote his master’s thesis on bear hibernation. Since its founding in 2008, Valkee has sold about 50,000 of its iPod-Nano-size devices with headsets.

“To combat winter blues, you need light inside your skull,” says Mr. Nissila. “Pathway doesn’t matter.” He studied animal physiology at the University of Oulu and says he has observed that pigeons react to light even when it is directed at the backs of their skulls. Further study convinced him that the human central nervous system, including some regions of brain, responds to light.

Not everyone, of course, agrees. Vivien Bromundt of the Centre for Chronobiology based in Basel, Switzerland, led a study published recently in Chronobiology International that found the Valkee device had no detectable effect on human body clock. The study of 20 healthy people in their mid-20s who used the device included a control group that was given no light therapy.

Among Valkee’s studies, one of 13 patients with seasonal affective disorder who used transcranial bright light therapy for three weeks reported a significant reduction in symptoms such as depression and anxiety.

Founded in 2008, Valkee raised $10 million in capital from investors that it plans to spend on research, product development and expanding outside of Finland, says Pekka Somerto, Valkee chief executive. Valkee says its goal is to sell 30,000 headsets this year.

The company is targeting primarily Western Europe and plans to expand to Japan.

Mirror or Lamp Light

In the southern Norwegian town of Rjukan, lying in the shadows of a narrow valley, nearly $1 million worth of hilltop mirrors were installed last year to direct sunlight to the town square during the darkest period of the year, which generally lasts from mid-December until early January.

Before the mirrors, people would take cable cars to catch rays during the six months a year the sun doesn’t shine.

In Finland, about 40% of Finns over age 30 say changes in seasons negatively affect their mood and behavior, according to survey data compiled by the National Institute of Health and Welfare in Finland. Cures include moderate eating, more sleep and outdoor exercise in the daylight hours.

Some people use bright light lamps, a therapy that has been studied for 30 years, with results backed by the U.S. National Institutes of Health.

The recommended regimen involves sitting each morning with the face inches away from a device that emits light five to 25 times more intense than normal indoor light. According to research, the light reaches opsins, or a type of nerve endings on the retina that has been found to regulate the internal body clock.

Still, light therapy remains a niche business, with sales from $10 million to $15 million annually according to various industry estimates.

One of the leaders in the business is a Finn named Jukka Jokiniemi. His company Innojok sells about 20,000 bright light devices a year, in addition to traditional lighting fixtures. Mr. Jokiniemi, 51, lost his eyesight due to progressive retina degeneration in 1993, the same time as he launched his company, which is known for its chic designs.

Turn Back the Clock

In Iceland, where the entire population resides above the Arctic Circle, there is currently a proposal in parliament to introduce a winter daylight-saving time. In mid-December, daylight can last as little as four hours.

Turning back the clock one hour may increase productivity and ease a feeling akin the jet lag that many Icelanders feel all winter.

Scientists and the Icelandic Sleep Association say the effort would reduce the amount of anti-depressive and sleep medications the nation consumes.


About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (www.heroinnovator.com), the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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