When looking for ways to manage the symptoms of seasonal affective disorder, you’ll often hear about using light therapy for SAD. So what is light therapy and how does light therapy work? If you experience a persistently low mood ding the winter months it helps to understand what is light therapy and how light therapy for SAD helps to beat the blues.
What is Light Therapy? How Does Light Therapy Work?
During the winter months, the sun’s rays weaken. The days get shorter. Often the sky is cloudier, too and even during the days our body just doesn’t get the amount of sunshine it needs. These short, gray, sunless days can leave you feeling down and listless all the time.
If low light levels are what trigger your SAD symptoms, it stands to reason that exposure to light can help prevent or at least minimize the intensity and frequency of the symptoms. Light therapy is the process of exposing your body to light on a regular basis.
However, exposure to regular household bulbs is not enough. What you need is to use a Light Therapy Lamp for SAD. Also known as just light lamps or phototherapy boxes, these are specially designed to emit light at a specific intensity that mimics outdoor natural light. Exposure to the light emitted by these lamps boosts serotonin levels in the body, which helps lift your mood and reduces your SAD symptoms.
Best Practices When Using a SAD Lamp
You must talk to your doctor before you get started using light therapy for SAD. Your doctor will help you choose the right light therapy lamp for you and also give you special advice based on any existing medical condition you may have. This is especially important if you have any eye disorder or if you have bipolar disorder. Too much exposure, whether in terms of duration or intensity, may have adverse effects in both cases.
For best results, try and use your SAD lamp within the first hour of waking up in the morning. This will ramp up your serotonin levels and help you start the day right. Don’t wait until you are already starting to feel sad, blue, or depressed to benefit from the light therapy.
Use the lamp for about 20 to 30 minutes. This is the time required to boost the serotonin levels in the body.
Sit at a distance of about 16 to 24 inches away from the device. Sitting any further away will weaken the effect of the lamp’s emissions. It’s not advisable to sit too close either. 16 to 24 inches is the optimum distance for getting the benefits of light therapy for SAD.
Make sure the device isn’t directly in front of you. Keep it about 24 inches away from your face, but not too far or it won’t work as well for you. Some experts recommend placing the light above your head, like the sun. If you’re unsure, read the directions or ask your doctor. Most lightboxes are designed to sit on a table.
Keep your eyes open while you have your SAD lamp on but do not look directly at the light. Those who aim it on their skin alone may receive some benefits, but, the benefits are greatly heightened when aimed indirectly into the eyes. However, you must be careful not to look directly into the light – doing so may cause retinal damage.
Make light therapy part of your daily routine to minimize the frequency and intensity of your SAD symptoms. If possible, begin using it before the winter depression or sadness hits. Being proactive is key to beating those winter blues.
Choosing the Right Light Therapy Lamp for SAD
All light therapy lamps for SAD treatment are basically designed to do the same thing – provide exposure to 10,000 lux of light. However, each lightbox has its own unique set of features.
Before buying a light therapy box for SAD, you must factor in its light intensity and safety features and whether or not it emits UV light. Its cost is also an important consideration and of course, its style. You want it to look good in your room.
A good light therapy box for SAD should provide exposure to 10,000 lux of light and emit negligible UV light.
Questions to Ask When Buying a SAD Lamp
Is the light therapy lab designed specifically for SAD? There are two types of light therapy lamps – those designed for skin disorders and those designed for SAD. The devices used for skin disorders will not reduce your SAD symptoms. Moreover, they emit UV light, which could damage your eyes if used incorrectly. SAD lamps are designed to emit little or no UV light. Read the description before you buy.
How much UV light does it emit? Lightboxes for SAD should filter out most or all UV light to avoid damaging your eyes. Read the product details to see how much UV light the lamp emits. Ask your doctor for help on choosing a SAD lamp if you have glaucoma, cataract, damage due to diabetes, or any other eye problems. If you need additional safety information, don’t hesitate to contact the manufacturer and ask.
What is the light intensity? Different light therapy lamps emit light of different intensities. The typical recommended light intensity is 10,000 lux. If you use a brighter lamp you may need to use it for a shorter period of time to achieve the same effect as a lower intensity lamp.
Is its style right for your space? A SAD lamp must be used every day to get the benefits of light therapy for SAD. Think about where you should place it so you will definitely use it and then choose a lamp that suits that spot. Light therapy lamps come in a wide array of shapes, sizes, and features. Choosing one that fits your selected spot will ensure that you use it every day.
Using light therapy for SAD can offer welcome relief by itself if you experience mild SAD symptoms. However, if your symptoms are more severe, your doctor may recommend additional measures.
This list of the Best Light Therapy Lamps for SAD will give you a snapshot of the different types of SAD lamps available so you can choose one that best meets your specific requirements.
Precautions When Using a SAD Lamp
Lightboxes are designed to be safe and effective. However, they are not regulated or approved by the FDA for treating SAD, which makes it even more important to speak to your doctor before using a SAD lamp.
It is also not recommended for anyone who has Systemic Lupus Erythematosus or any other skin-sensitivity conditions. You should also avoid use if you have a history of skin cancer.
Be aware that many of the side-effects that can be experienced are short-lived and mild in severity but they should never be ignored.
By incorporating SAD light therapy into your daily routine, you can offset the effects of light deprivation and resulting seasonal disorders.
Don’t just stop with using light therapy for SAD. While it is effective on its own, there are several other things you can do to manage and reduce the winter blues. Combining multiple strategies is the best way to reduce SAD symptoms in the colder months.
These articles may help:
Last but certainly not least – Stay Informed. The title of this book is self-explanatory. It dives deep into the topic so you have all the information you need. Winter Blues, Fourth Edition: Everything You Need to Know to Beat Seasonal Affective Disorder
Disclaimer: This information is not intended to serve as medical advice. Please consult your doctor before using any natural medication or if you experience any unusual symptoms. See Full Disclaimer here.