Seasonal affective disorder has the most fitting acronym: SAD. It’s also called the winter blues, as it usually crops up in the cooler months. You can blame the shorter days and longer nights. But with light therapy, you can brighten up your days. SAD is surprisingly common. It affects about 5 percent of the country’s population and can last up to 40 percent of the year.
Your treatment options range far and wide. Supplements can boost your intake of vitamin D, a nutrient that your skin makes from sun exposure. It’s thought to affect serotonin, a brain chemical that controls mood. You can also take antidepressants like selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) or use behavioral therapy, aromatherapy, and herbs. Light therapy is another alternative. It’s designed to replace the lack of natural sunlight, a major factor of SAD. But is it right for you? Here’s what you need to know about light therapy.1 Symptoms may include low energy levels, drowsiness, sadness, overeating, weight
What Is Light Therapy?
Light therapy is based on the way light affects your body. It can control your circadian rhythm, or body clock. Exposure to light also has antidepressant effects, explaining why shorter days make us feel down.3 Light can even influence neurotransmitters like serotonin. This treatment uses a light box with white, fluorescent light at 10,000 lux. Each morning, you need to sit 12 to 18 inches from the box for 30 minutes. Most people feel better within one or two weeks.
How To Use Light Therapy
Light therapy is safe and tolerated by most people. Yet, like all remedies, the benefits depend on proper use.
1. Keep Your Distance
Light boxes may cause headaches, eye strain, and blurred vision. So don’t sit too close! Follow the rule and sit 12 to 18 inches away, unless your doctor says otherwise.
2. Limit Eye Contact
You don’t need to look directly into the light. But if you’re prone to headaches and eye strain, it might be a good idea. Just make sure your eyes are open during treatment. Luckily, light therapy isn’t linked to eye damage. However, if you have a pre-existing eye disease, you might need regular check-ups. The same goes for diabetes, which can lead to eye problems. If necessary, your doctor will provide special instructions.
3. Check The Wavelengths
Not all light is equal. Before buying a light box, make sure the light is fluorescent. Ultraviolet wavelengths can be harmful and will not treat depression.4
Do you have bipolar disorder? Light therapy might not be the
Don’t stop at light therapy. Focus on stress management, exercise, and eating well. Adopt a new hobby and spend time with people you love. By adopting a healthy lifestyle, you can beat the winter blues.
|↑1||Kurlansik, Stuart L., and Ann amarie D. Ibay. “Seasonal affective disorder.” Indian Jour. of Clinical Practice 24 (201 3).|
|↑2||Seasonal Affective Disorder. National Institute of Mental Health.|
|↑3||Terman, Jiuan Su, Michael Terman, Ee-Sing Lo, and Thomas B. Cooper. “Circadian time of morning light administration and therapeutic response in winter depression.” Archives of general psychiatry 58, no. 1 (2001): 69-75.|
|↑4||Kurlansik, Stuart L., and Annamarie D. Ibay. “Seasonal affective disorder.” (2013).|
|↑5||Chan, P. K., Raymond W. Lam, and Katherine F. Perry. “Mania precipitated by light therapy for patients with SAD.” The Journal of clinical psychiatry 55, no. 10 (1994): 454-454.|