Light Box Therapy for Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
A light therapy box is a device that mimics outdoor light, usually minus the UV exposure. Researchers believe systematic exposure to artificial daylight can cause chemical changes in your brain that lifts your mood and eases other symptoms of SAD (winter depression).
How light therapy helps against depression
Light therapy is also called heliotherapy and phototherapy. When the body is exposed to blue light of specific wavelengths similar to the sun, it begins to produce cortisol, a hormone that is connected to wakefulness and action. By stimulating the production of cortisol, one is able to counteract the excessive sleepiness and disrupted sleep patterns which are symptoms of SAD.
Aside from the more commonly used lightboxes that employ continuous light, recent research also suggests that short, high-intensity light flashes during the night may be effective for regulating the circadian rhythm. This kind of therapy can be particularly helpful for treating jetlag.
Things to consider when using light therapy for winter depression:
- Verify that the lamp is specifically designed to treat SAD as these will filter out most or all UV light. Other lamps made to treat skin disorders primarily emit UV light that could damage your skin and eyes if used incorrectly.
- The brightness of the box will determine how much time you need to use it for each day. Typically, 10,000 lux is the recommended intensity.
- Some lamp boxes will include features to protect your eyes. If you have eye problems such as glaucoma, cataracts or eye damage from diabetes, check with your eye doctor for advice on choosing the right light box.
- Light boxes come in different shapes and sizes. Some look like upright lamps while others are smaller and boxlike. Light boxes are effective when used daily so choose one that is convenient for you.
- Consider where you will place the light box. Manufacturer directions will instruct you on the proper distance to receive the right amount of light. For example, if you are going to be reading while using it, make sure it can sit on a table at the right distance from your face when you are seated in your favorite reading spot at home!
Light therapy for other conditions than SAD
While light or heliotherapy is most commonly used to treat SAD and depression, there is also evidence that it is effective for treating several other conditions including:
Heliotherapy is safe for a majority of people, but can have negative effects if you are affected by any of the following conditions:
- Bipolar disorder
- Hepatitis infection
- Eye conditions
- Medications that increase sensitivity to light
- Skin conditions
If you are diagnosed with any of these conditions or suspect that you might be suffering from any of them, consult a physician before beginning therapy.