A light box is a device that mimics natural outdoor light. Clinical research supported by the U.S National Institutes of Health shows that light therapy, or phototherapy, can cause a chemical change in the brain that improves the mood.
Light therapy is particularly effective at easing symptoms and improving the mood of people who experience Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).
Seasonal Affective Disorder
SAD is a seasonal depression disorder that can occur every year at the same time, usually around winter or fall. People with SAD may experience a variety of symptoms, including:
- Struggling to wake up
- Sleeping longer
- Low self-confidence
- Social withdrawal
- Increased appetite, cravings for high-carb and sugary foods
- Weight gain
SAD typically occurs in a cold, dark climate or when there is little sunlight. For this reason, people experiencing Seasonal Affective Disorder may mistakenly brush it off as the "winter blues," but SAD is a legitimate type of depression that comes in two subsets:
A. Winter/Fall SAD (Winter Depression): This type usually starts at the beginning of winter and is characterized by feelings of low energy, irritability, hypersensitivity, social withdrawal, and a feeling of heavy arms and legs.
B. Summer/Spring SAD (Summer Depression): This type usually starts at the onset of summer and is characterized by depression, weight loss, insomnia, poor appetite, and anxiety.
Causes of Seasonal Affective Disorder(SAD)
The exact cause for SAD is not known, but several factors could trigger these symptoms in different people, namely:
1. Disruption of the Body Clock
This is a natural, internal process that regulates the sleep-wake cycle and repeats every 24 hours. The brain uses the body clock to set itself and do essential things, such as waking up and falling asleep. Disruption of this rhythm and your sleep schedule can cause symptoms of SAD.
2. Melatonin Production
Melatonin is produced by your brain when it starts to get dark. The melatonin hormone helps you sleep, but while experiencing SAD symptoms, your body may produce more melatonin than it usually would, causing you to feel sluggish, exhausted, and sleepy all the time.
3. Serotonin Production
This hormone influences mood, appetite, and sleep. Lack of exposure to sunlight can affect the production of serotonin, and a decrease in this hormone's levels can lead to depression.
Light Therapy Treatment
On diagnosis of SAD, you can use several treatments, including phototherapy, to ease symptoms. A light box lamp should provide exposure to 10,000 LUX light while emitting very little UV light.
Studies suggest that exposure to this bright light can help make up for the natural sunlight you’re not getting during the darker seasons. The light is almost 5 to 20 times the average amount of indoor lighting.
Many light box products are available in today's market. Many of them claim to alleviate the SAD condition effectively, but not all light boxes meet the requirements that would relieve SAD symptoms. Light boxes are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, so you must choose one specifically designed for the SAD treatment and give enough light.
For maximum efficiency, you should use a lamp at least 30 minutes every day. Light therapy has also been known to alleviate other conditions, such as:
- Jet lag
- Circadian rhythm sleeping disorders
Buying a Light Therapy Lamp for Effective Light Therapy
Some recommendations by the Center for Environmental Therapeutics (CET) for effective light box therapy, include:
1. Talk to your doctor
Make an appointment with your doctor before beginning treatment using a light box lamp. There are cases where light therapy is not advisable, especially if you have bipolar disorder.
If you experience eye conditions, such as eye damage, cataracts, or glaucoma, you should consult your ophthalmologist before using a light box. A SAD lamp might cause further eye strain.
2. Clinical Trials
Check whether the light therapy lamp you are looking to buy has data from peer-reviewed clinical trials to back its efficiency in treating SAD symptoms. Some light boxes are designed to help treat skin disorders, so make sure your light therapy lamp is designed to treat SAD symptoms, filters out most UV rays, and emits 10,000 LUX, full-spectrum LED light.
At a comfortable distance, the light therapy lamp should provide 10,000 LUX of illumination for SAD treatment. Avoid products with unverified specifications.
Safety features in your light therapy box should include UV diffusing settings that filter out harmful UV rays.
5. Avoid Eye Damager
There should be minimal glare and safe brightness levels from your lamp while in use.
When you consider buying, go for a light therapy box that's big enough to illuminate a large area and has a standard AWG 6-foot grounded power cord.
Frequently Asked Questions on Therapy Boxes
A. What types of Light therapy boxes are available?
There are different types of light therapy boxes available, including:
- Dawn simulators
- Full-spectrum LED lights
- Desk and floor lamps
B. What are the other treatment remedies to help alleviate symptoms of SAD?
While these remedies won't treat your mood disorders, they may alleviate symptoms related to SAD. Patients should try to achieve peace of mind by living a healthy lifestyle and following their physician's instructions. Other remedies include:
- Self-care is different for everyone, but consider going on regular walks, using Vitamin D supplements, and staying active, especially when it's cold. Exposure to sunlight can also help boost your mood.
- Never self-diagnose. Go to your physician for consultation. The doctor will probably recommend avoiding blue light, as researchers have noticed that this light can suppress melatonin production and disrupt the body clock rhythm.
- Patients are advised to use SAD lamps only after a doctor's recommendation.
- Eat well, and make sure your diet consists of healthy fruits and vegetables.
By following these tips, you'll feel confident when looking for and buying the right type of light box for you.
1. Short exposure to light treatment improves depression scores in patients with Seasonal Affective Disorder: A brief report: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2913518/
2. Seasonal Affective Disorder treatment: Choosing a light therapy box: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/seasonal-affective-disorder/in-depth/seasonal-affective-disorder-treatment/art-20048298
3. Before You Buy a Light Box for Seasonal Affective Disorder: https://www.verywellmind.com/before-you-buy-a-light-box-1067436
4. 5 Triggers for Seasonal Affective Disorder in the Summer: https://healthblog.uofmhealth.org/wellness-prevention/5-triggers-for-seasonal-affective-disorder-summer
5. Vitamin D supplementation for treatment of Seasonal Affective symptoms in healthcare professionals: a double-blind randomised placebo-controlled trial: https://bmcresnotes.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1756-0500-7-528
6. Seasonal Affective Disorder: https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/seasonal-affective-disorder/index.shtml
7. Seasonal Affective Disorder: https://www.health.harvard.edu/depression/seasonal-affective-disorder-overview
8. Physical Exercise in Major Depression: Reducing the Mortality Gap While Improving Clinical Outcomes: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyt.2018.00762/full
9. Seasonal Affective Disorder: Using Light Therapy: https://www.uofmhealth.org/health-library/ty6702
10. How to Select a Light Box: https://cet.org/how-to-select-a-light-box/