What Is Light Therapy

Do you notice that you become more tired and depressed during the winter months? Then you might suffer from the seasonal affective disorder. It's a mood disorder that happens at the same time every year. The seasonal affective disorder begins in the fall and ends in the spring. Other symptoms of the seasonal affective disorder include difficulties concentrating, fatigue, increased appetite, greater need for sleep, and weight gain.

Though there are many different treatments for seasonal affective disorder, one of the most common and effective is light therapy.

How does light therapy work

How does light therapy work?

Light therapy decreases symptoms of the seasonal affective disorder by altering brain chemicals associated with mood and sleep. During a light therapy session, you sit near a light therapy box that gives off bright light that mimics natural daylight. According to Harvard Medical School, the bright light works by "stimulating cells in the retina that connect to the hypothalamus, a part of the brain that controls circadian rhythms. Activating the hypothalamus at a certain time every day can restore normal circadian rhythm and thus banish seasonal symptoms."

You're supposed to sit close to a light therapy box for at least 30 minutes per day, usually as soon as you wake up. These boxes typically provide 10,000 lux of light, which is about 100 times greater than the natural light found inside. A bright sunny day outside usually has 50,000 lux or more. The key is to keep your eyes open. You don't have to stare directly at the lightbox -- you can read a magazine or watch TV while receiving your light therapy for the day.

lightboxs

Not all lightboxes are the same

Lightboxes are designed to mimic outdoor lighting to help decrease seasonal affective disorder symptoms. Before investing in a light therapy box, you should consider these things:

  • Get approval from your doctor first. Make sure that you actually have a diagnosis of the seasonal affective disorder before beginning light therapy. Discuss treatment options with your doctor and get approval to use a light therapy box.
  • Buy a lamp that is designed to treat the seasonal affective disorder. There are lots of light therapy lamps on the market, and some of them are used for different things. Choose one that is specifically designed to treat symptoms associated with seasonal affective disorder.
  • Look for a product that has been clinically tested. You should find a light therapy box that has been clinically tested. Make sure to do thorough research before deciding on a light therapy box.
  • Choose a light therapy box with the right kind of light. The most common are blue lightboxes and full-spectrum light boxes. Blue light boxes decrease seasonal affective disorder symptoms faster than other types of light. Full-spectrum lightboxes are considered to be the best at mimicking natural light. Speak with your doctor about the best kind of light for your symptoms.
  • Use a light therapy box that emits at least 10,000 lux. If you buy a lightbox that emits less than that, you're just wasting your money.
  • Invest in a lightbox that filters out ultraviolet rays. These rays can cause premature aging. Locate a lightbox that has minimal ultraviolet rays.
  • Purchase a larger lightbox. The larger the lightbox, the more light it produces, which means the more effective it will be in treating the seasonal affective disorder.

Does light therapy work

So, does light therapy work?

Yes -- light therapy has been both clinically and empirically proven to treat symptoms of seasonal affective disorder. However, you should first get prior approval from your doctor and invest in a large lightbox that has at least 10,000 lux and contains broad-spectrum light. Remember to use your light therapy box for at least 30 minutes a day.

References
  1. "8 Gold Rules for Buying a Light Box for SAD," Beat the Winter Blues, n.d.
  2. "How Does Light Therapy Actually Work?," Joovv, n.d.
  3. "Seasonal Affective Disorder: Bring on the Light," Harvard Health Publishing, October 29, 2015.

mental health | wellness | health | self-care