Mother nature shuts off the lights earlier in winter and for millions of people darker days bring a bout of depression called seasonal affective disorder (SAD). If you’re experiencing the blues this winter, it might be time to get a dose of sunshine from light therapy. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, between 50 and 80 percent of people using light therapy to treat SAD experience complete recovery from symptoms.
FYI Tips For Finding a Light Therapy Box
Type of Light: Choose a light that is specifically designed for SAD therapy. “SAD therapy lights are different from everyday bulbs because of their different spectral characteristics,” says Dr. Stephen Josephson, Clinical Professor at Cornell University Medical Center. Regular bulbs and those found in tanning beds do not have the same intensity and characteristics as SAD therapy lamps, which mimic natural light received through the eye, triggering the body’s melatonin secretion to regulate a natural sleep/wake cycle. According to the Center for Environmental Therapeutics (CET), blue or bluish-hued lamps provide no known therapeutic advantages, so look for therapy lights that give off white light rather than colored light.
Strength: Experts agree that in order to be effective in treating symptoms of SAD, light therapy boxes must emit 10,000 lux. At this strength, you should absorb 30 minutes of light per day.
Reputation: Consider the manufacturer’s reputation when purchasing a light therapy source since light boxes are not yet approved by the FDA to treat SAD. The CET recommends purchasing a light that has tested successfully in peer-reviewed clinical trials, or been calibrated by an independent lab to demonstrate necessary output level, diffusion, spectrum and UV filtering.
Features: Consider how you will sit for your light therapy and choose a model that can be positioned accordingly. The CET recommends a light that projects downward toward the eyes at an angle to minimize aversive visual glare. Also, choose a light with a diffusing screen to filter out UV rays that are harmful to the skin and eyes.
Size: Portability may be a factor if you plan to use your light box in multiple places. However, the CET advises that smaller is not better because minor head movements will take the eyes out of the therapeutic range of the light, and this is more likely to happen with a compact light box.
Before You Try Light Box Therapy: Marriage and family therapist So-Mai Brown says it’s important to consult your mental health professional for a proper diagnosis before investing in a light box. “If someone gets a light box hoping to cure SAD and they have a medical issue, a different kind of depression or a form of bipolar, their symptoms could worsen, ” says Brown.
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