Have you ever heard about light therapy for mental health? Here is everything you need to know about it.
In this article:
- What Is Light Therapy?
- What Is Light Therapy Used for?
- Is Light Therapy Dangerous?
- How Long Should You Use a SAD Light for?
- How Can You Make the Most of Light Therapy?
- What Should I Look for in a Lightbox?
Light Therapy | Frequently Asked Questions
What Is Light Therapy?
Light therapy, also called bright light therapy or phototherapy, is a treatment that utilizes artificial light primarily to affect chemicals in the brain that are linked to sleep and mood.
In this treatment, the patient sits or works close to a light therapy box. This device emits a bright light that somewhat mimics the light from the sun.
Bright light therapy or phototherapy are other more common names of light therapy.
What Is Light Therapy Used for?
One of the most common conditions light therapy addresses is seasonal affective disorder (SAD). People who have this experience depression at a certain time of the year, often during winter or fall.
Light therapy eases the symptoms of SAD as it affects the brain chemicals linked to mood. Jet lag, sleep disorders, other types of depression, and even dementia are some of the other conditions that light therapy helps address. This type of light therapy should not be confused with other types of light therapy such as the one doctors use to treat skin conditions like psoriasis.
For skin disorders, doctors use a process called ultraviolet light therapy with a lamp that emits UV light. Contrary to that, light boxes used for SAD and the other conditions above filter it out. When used improperly, UV light can damage the eyes and the skin.
Consult with your doctor before starting light therapy. They often recommend this treatment for the following reasons:
- You would like to try a safe, alternative treatment with few side effects.
- It helps boost the effectivity of antidepressant medication.
- It supplements mental health counseling, otherwise known as psychotherapy.
- You are pregnant or breastfeeding, and you need to avoid antidepressant medication.
- You want or need to take a lower dosage of antidepressant medication.
Is Light Therapy Dangerous?
Generally speaking, light therapy is safe and has minimal side effects. These side effects may include the following:
- Irritability or agitation
Said side effects are often mild, lasting only a few days before they go away on their own. They can also easily be managed by simply changing the time of day the treatment is done, taking breaks in between sessions, reducing the total treatment time, and moving farther away from the lightbox.
Experts still recommend visiting your doctor if you have conditions or take medications that increase your sensitivity or vulnerability to sunlight (such as systemic lupus erythematosus). For those with bipolar disorder, it could also trigger mania, euphoria, and hyperactivity.
How Long Should You Use a SAD Light for?
The length of time a light therapy session lasts depends largely on the intensity of the light.
Typically, the standard SAD lightbox provides 10,000lux at arm’s length. For lightboxes with this power, a 20-30 minute sessions should be enough. For mid-power lights that give off 5,000lux, patients should use them for about an hour. Finally, low-powered ones at 2,500lux typically take a session of 2 hours to complete.
How Can You Make the Most of Light Therapy?
Making the most of light therapy is only a matter of knowing exactly when and how to use it.
The time of day a patient uses light therapy is a variable in its effectiveness. Most doctors recommend starting the treatment early in the morning. For people with SAD, this should simulate the early morning sun that clouds often cover during the winter.
Additionally, patients should place SAD lightboxes at a distance of about 16-24 inches from the face. Generally speaking, this should emit enough light to reach your eyes without it being too close. Try placing it on top of a table about 2 feet away from your face. This way, you could still read a book or watch television during the session.
People who use light therapy should remember not to look directly into the lightbox as it can damage their eyes. Having said that, they do have to make sure that their eyes are open. For the treatment to be effective, the light from the box has to enter the eyes without them looking directly at it.
Again, light therapy acts as a supplement. It cannot directly cure depression. All the same, it can help ease its symptoms and even decrease one’s reliance on antidepressant medications. Proper diet, counseling, and exercise are still the best courses of treatment. During the winter, people tend to live more sedentary lifestyles, especially those with SAD. It is during these times that they should try most to become more active to help battle the depression.
What Should I Look for in a Lightbox?
In choosing a light box, these are some of the things you should consider:
- The time you have to use the lightbox for every session. If you want to limit sessions to about 30 minutes, then choose a lightbox with an intensity of about 10,000lux. Dimmer lightboxes will require more time each day for it to be effective.
- The amount of UV light it releases. Lightboxes made to treat skin disorders emit UV light. If used incorrectly, these lightboxes could cause damage to your eyes and skin. Make sure to choose a lightbox made for SAD as these lamps filter out most or all UV light the lightbox emits. Make sure to check with your doctor before choosing a lightbox especially if you suffer from eye problems such as cataracts or glaucoma.
- The style of the lightbox and how it suits you. Lightboxes come in numerous designs. There are ones that resemble an upright lamp. Other lightboxes are simply rectangular and small. Choose one that suits your needs as well as how you will be using it. Consider where you will be placing the box and what you will be doing during sessions.
Using light therapy is one of the many ways you can enhance brain function. This video shows you how to use a lightbox from Dr. Tracey Marks:
Light therapy provides an alternative solution for those who want to take a more natural and holistic approach to their conditions. While light therapy is safe for most people, it is best to consult with your doctor before using it.
Do you have other questions about light therapy that we might be able to help you with? Ask us in the comments section below!
DISCLAIMER: These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. None of the nutritional products mentioned are intended to Diagnose, Treat, Cure or Prevent Any Disease.