Traditionally, treating depression includes drugs and behavioral therapy. But what if light could help? That’s where light therapy comes in.
Depression is more common than you think. In America, it affects 14.8 million adults over the age 18. That’s 6.7 percent of the population. It can develop any time in life, but the average age is 32 years.1
Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD is a type of depression. It crops up with certain seasons. Most SAD patients feel symptoms in the late fall and winter, but it can happen in the spring and summer.
SAD is thought to be caused by low levels of light. After all, symptoms seem to decrease when the days are longer. This is why light therapy is worth noting.2
Luckily, light therapy can help treat both seasonal and non-seasonal depression. It’s also safe and evasive. Here’s what you need to know.
What Is Light Therapy?
Light therapy uses light as treatment. It calls for a light box that emits white or blue light. A patient sits near the box for 30 minutes to 2 hours each day, depending on its strength.
The treatment is best done in the morning between dawn and 8 a.m. Early morning light actually advances the circadian rhythm, and therefore, makes it normal.
Your therapist will tell you how far to sit from the light box. Often, this will be 1 to 3 feet away. You can do normal activities like cleaning and reading, but it’s crucial to regularly glance at the box.
The eyes have photoreceptors called melanopsin. It controls the biological clock, but it also receives light. Give it a chance to soak up the goodness.3
1. Mimics Outdoor Light
The light box is similar to outdoor light. It’s also 20 times stronger than indoor light.4 In turn, it’ll normalize your body’s circadian rhythm or biological clock. This is great news for your sleep schedule.5
2. Improves Mood
Your biological clock is also linked to your mood. After all, your body’s clock is located in your brain! Plus, people with depression usually have an abnormal circadian rhythm.6 By keeping it in check, your mood will get a boost.
3. Promotes Sleep
With a healthy biological clock, you’ll be able to sleep and rise at normal times. Snoozing is needed to stay happy. In fact, when you’re deprived of sleep, depression is likely.7
By getting enough rest, you’ll also reduce fatigue and daytime sleepiness. Daily activities won’t feel so miserable.8
1. Eye Irritation
For the light box to work, periodic glancing is necessary. Yet, for some people, this can cause eye irritation and dryness. You might need a box with a less intense light.9
Bright light is a common cause of headaches. Unsurprisingly, a light box might make your head hurt. If worsens, the headache can lead to nausea.10
3. Dry Skin
If you have sensitive skin, be careful with light boxes. They have been known to dry out skin. Again, a less intense light box may help.11
Light therapy can be prescribed with or without drugs. However, compared to antidepressants, light therapy has a faster effect. There’s also a lower risk for side effects!12
|↑1||Depression Statistics. Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance.|
|↑2, ↑3, ↑8, ↑12||Sanassi, Lorraine A. “Seasonal affective disorder: Is there light at the end of the tunnel?.” Journal of the American Academy of Physician Assistants 27, no. 2 (2014): 18-22.|
|↑4||Seasonal Affective Disorder. National Institute of Mental Health.|
|↑5||Light Therapy For Insomnia Sufferers. National Sleep Foundation.|
|↑6||McClung, Colleen A. “Circadian genes, rhythms and the biology of mood disorders.” Pharmacology & therapeutics 114, no. 2 (2007): 222-232.|
|↑7, ↑9, ↑10, ↑11||Sleep and Sleep Disorders. Centers for Disease Control.|