One of the biggest contributors to seasonal affective disorder is a lack of adequate sunlight. A light deficiency can worsen your mood, incite winter blues or cause a seasonal depression until the warmer, sunnier months.
To make up for a lack of sunlight, some Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) sufferers use special, therapeutic lights. During light therapy, patients sit near a light therapy box that uses a special bulb that mimics natural outdoor light. It’s believed that the light stimulates brain chemicals linked to mood easing SAD symptoms.
Proper Light Therapy for SAD Symptoms
Proper light therapy dosing consists of three major dimensions: light intensity, light duration and time of day of exposure. Depending on your needs, treatment will be specialized for your symptoms, just like a prescription medication dosage.
Light intensity is usually set at the equivalent of early morning daylight, or 2,500 to 10,000 lux. (Lux is a unit of measuring luminance.) Normal home light fixtures are usually at 50 to 300 lux.
Daily sessions of light therapy usually last between 20 and 60 minutes. Most patients suffering from SAD find that light therapy works best through exposure in the morning, but timing can be adjusted depending on whether you prefer to be active in the early morning, afternoons or night time.
Does Light Therapy for SAD Really Work?
As with any study of mental disorder, results can be difficult to quantify, however, researchers at more than 15 medical centers and clinics both in the U.S. and internationally have found success by treating SAD patients with light therapy.
The Side Effects of Using Light Therapy Lamps
Light therapy is generally a very safe treatment for SAD symptoms. Side effects that may occur are usually mild and short-lasting. The most common side effects from light therapy include headaches, nausea, eyestrain, mania, hyperactivity, dry mouth and sleep problems.
You should be careful when using light therapy if you have a condition that makes you especially sensitive to light, you take medication that increases your sensitivity to sunlight, you have an eye condition that makes your eyes vulnerable to light damage or you have a history of skin cancer. When in doubt, talk with your doctor.
Whether it be natural sunlight or from a special SAD lamp, exposure to light is often how seasonal affective disorder can be prevented.