Sally has seasonal affective disorder. She dreads the winter months. Sally says, “I just can’t shake off this sense of gloom. It takes all my energy just to get out of bed. All I want to do is sleep and eat.” As much as nine percent of US adults suffer from seasonal affective disorder (SAD). SAD symptoms, like Sally’s, occur during winter months because there is less sun light available. Important body functions such as the release of hormones follow the rhythms of the sun’s light.keep in touch with us sad box.
Key among these rhythms is the waxing and waning of sunlight during the sun-lit day and the dark night, and the earth’s yearly rotation (including tilt of its axis) around the sun, causing our seasons. Scientists call these rhythms, circadian rhythms. Disruption of circadian rhythms cause all kinds of havoc with health from sleep disorders to jet lag to mood disorders such as seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Light box therapy (also called bright light therapy, phototherapy, and light therapy) helps correct for these disruptions and can markedly help those suffering with SAD.
How Does Light Box Therapy Work?
Scientists’ theorize that light box therapy causes biochemical changes in the brain including the release of melatonin that help reduce symptoms of seasonal affective disorder and other conditions. Melatonin is a hormone that regulates your body’s sleep-wake cycle.
During therapy a light box delivers intense light indirectly to your eyes at prescribed times and levels. Ultraviolet (UV) light is screened out as it may harm eyes and skin. It works best with the proper combination of light intensity, duration, and timing.
Light Intensity. The intensity of light produced should match that of the outdoors shortly after sunrise or before sunset. Lights used in light box therapy are 5 to 20 times higher in illumination than usual indoor lighting. Indoor lighting cannot deliver the light needed for therapy.
Duration and Timing. The length of a session can vary from 15 minutes to three hours depending on individual needs and the type of light box used, says Jim Phelps, MD, of PsychEducation.org. Most respond best to light box therapy on first awakening although some do better with evening light. A newer type of light therapy, dawn simulation, is currently under study. This treatment occurs when a computerized timer turns on a lamp that simulates the light of an actual outdoor springtime dawn during the final period of sleep.
What Size of Light Box Should You Use?
Light boxes used to be as big as suite cases, now they come as small as your hand. Phelps reports, “I’m satisfied that the little box is as good as the big ones. They are cheaper, easier to use, more portable, less bright on the eyes in the morning, and several studies suggest (but don’t absolutely confirm, yet) that they work as well as the old big ones.” Do not try to make your own light therapy box, as the light output requires specific calibration to get the therapeutic effect.
How Do You Use Light Box Therapy?
Light box therapy is easy to do. Simply place the light therapy box on a table or desktop where you can sit comfortably for the treatments session. During the treatment, you are free to do activities such as reading, eating, working at the computer, or writing.
Do not look directly at the light. You receive the light therapy from its reflection on the surfaces of the area where you are working. Light box therapy users typically notice improvement within a week, if not sooner.
Is Light Box Therapy Safe?
Light therapy has an excellent safety record and is as effective as medications. It costs less too. You can use it along with other therapies such as cognitive behavioral therapy and antidepressants. A few people report minor side effects including headache, eye irritation or strain, or nausea. These effects are usually mild and stop after a few days. Rarely, redness of the skin may occur.
For serious concerns, work with a physician or other licensed therapist experienced in light therapy to help get the right balance of light intensity, duration, and timing. See a health practitioner skilled in light box therapy before use if you have severe depression, have experienced hyperactive states, have bipolar disorder, or have an eye condition such as glaucoma or cataracts.