Do Seasonal Affective Disorder Lights Work? How to Use Bright Light Therapy for SAD

Do Seasonal Affective Disorder Lights Work? How to Use Bright Light Therapy for SADI live in Seattle, where the clouds hide the sun for most of the winter (and much of the spring and fall, too). So far this year we have had some particularly dark days – record setting dark days, in fact.

Many people are greatly affected by lack of light in the winter. Seasonal affective disorder is one of common health concerns that occurs during long, dark winters. But bright light therapy using seasonal affective disorder lights can be an extremely simple and effective treatment.

What is seasonal affective disorder?

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a form of depression that occurs seasonally – meaning you become depressed at the same time each year. Most people with SAD experience symptoms of depression when the days get shorter and darker during the winter and fall.

Does light therapy work?

Natural Medicines, a comprehensive database of clinical information on alternative therapies, considers light therapy to be an effective treatment for SAD.[1]

One study found that as little as one week of bright light therapy can significantly reduce symptoms of depression in SAD.[2]

In fact, bright light therapy has been shown to be as effective as antidepressant drug treatments for SAD.[3,4] And as antidepressants have a long list of risky side effects, light therapy is a safe, reliable alternative. Light therapy is safe to use: a 2013 study found that 30 minutes of light therapy with 10,000 lux produced no more side effects than a placebo.[5]

Light boxes probably work because they help to increase the activity of serotonin the brain, and they also help regulate proper timing of melatonin release.[1,6]

How to use light therapy for SAD treatment

It is generally recommended to find a box with 10,000 lux of full-spectrum light (meaning it contains all colors of light), and to sit in front of it for about 30 minutes each morning. You can sit it front of it longer if your schedule allows.

You’ll need to sit within two feet of the box. Set up it somewhere convenient, such as on your desk.

Other uses for light therapy

As they don’t cause side effects and are safe to use, light boxes are also great choices for women suffering from depression during or after pregnancy. Read 5 Natural Postpartum Depression Treatment Options and 3 Natural Treatments for Depression While Pregnant for more information.

Light therapy is also a great option for preventing Vitamin D deficiency for those who can’t get enough natural sunlight regularly.

Choosing the right light box

Take these factors in consideration when choosing a light box:

  • Is it made to treat SAD? Some boxes are deigned for skin conditions or other health problems, but be sure to choose one that is made for SAD treatment.
  • Is it convenient for you? Light boxes come in all difference shapes and sizes. Make sure you choose one that fits your space and will be convenient for you to use on a daily basis.
  • How bright is it? Light boxes can range from 400 to 10,000 lux (lux is the measure of how much light the box emits). Studies show the brighter the light, the more effective the treatment.[7]

If you suffer from seasonal depression and SAD, you don’t have to any longer. Light therapy is simple, easy, effective, and safe. Try it for at least 30 minutes each day for best results.

Share your experience

Have you ever tried bright light therapy? Do you have any tips for choosing the best seasonal affective disorder lights? Share your experience in the comments section below.

[1] Natural Medicines Professional Monograph. Light Therapy. (Accessed by subscription Dec 11, 2014)

[2] J Affect Disord. 2014 Sep;166:343-6.

[3] Am J Psychiatry. 2005 Apr;162(4):656-62.

[4] Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2011 Dec 7;(12):CD008591.

[5] PLoS One. 2013 Sep 24;8(9):e75893.

[6] Brain Res Bull. 2015 Sep;118:25-33.

[7] Acta Psychiatr Scand. 1999 May;99(5):315-23.

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UHN Staff

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