At first glance, the claims made about SunSprite — More energy! Better sleep! Improved attention! All it takes is a few minutes of sunlight! — might look like digital snake oil. But the minimalist health gadget has some legitimate scientific bona fides.
Designed by doctors Jacqueline Olds and Richard Schwartz, a husband-and-wife team of Harvard psychiatrists, SunSprite makes it easy for people to take advantage of the many subtle and not-so-subtle benefits of exposure to bright light.
You’ve probably heard of Seasonal Affective Disorder, which affects about 25 million Americans, or more likely you’re one of the 75 million more who experience a milder form of moodiness during the short days and long nights of winter. The color, quantity and intensity of the light that reaches our eyes affects our sleep cycles, our hormones, and our metabolism — and with all the time we spend basking in the dim blue light of digital screens, almost everyone is affected to some degree or another.
SunSprite’s magnetic clip lets it easily attach to any piece of clothing so it can measure how much bright light the wearer is exposed to each day. The sensor is completely solar powered (of course) and features a simple bar of LEDs, each corresponding to 10 percent of the user’s daily light goal. Data is also beamed to a mobile app over Bluetooth Low Energy for tracking patterns of light exposure over time.
In addition to visible light, SunSprite keeps track of UV exposure. Ultraviolet light hitting our skin stimulates vitamin D production and — in some people — produces a tan. But too much of it causes sunburns. SunSprite gives a warning when there’s enough UV light to be concerned about skin damage, but it’s up to the user to know their skin type and decide when to head for the shade. Luckily, the benefits of bright light that SunSprite targets are all about the eyes, so users can fulfill their light quota while wearing sunscreen or sitting indoors by a window.
There’s also the option of a therapeutic light box, which provides the “bright” part of sunlight, without the UV radiation. Just be careful to use it early in the day, or you might throw off your sleep cycle.
Related: Connected Body