How Do Light Boxes for Seasonal Affective Disorder Help with the Symptoms of SAD?
By Jocelin Higgins
First of all, you may have come here because a friend recommend you try a light box for seasonal affective disorder or perhaps you may have just been recently diagnosed with SAD, roughly ten percent of Americans suffer from it. SAD is a type of depression that comes and goes during winter months, or maybe someone close to you is in need of some light therapy. Whatever the case, I’ll give you some valuable information to take with you and help you to better understand what light therapy and light boxes do and how they help people during those darker, colder winter months.
Do you Find Yourself Getting Depressed from Lack of Sunlight During the Winter Months?
During the winter, especially in the northern part of the globe, the sun is replaced by dull grey clouds and doesn’t come out as often as it does in the summer. People can experience SAD in either season. The winter SAD symptoms in which light box therapy is very effective in counteracting include:
- Weight gain
- Appetite changes, especially craving foods high in carbohydrates
- Heavy, lead like feeling in the arms or legs
- Tiredness or low energy
- Problems getting along with others
- Hypersensitivity to rejection
This causes people to lack the necessary energy they need to function, to easily become more exhausted, depressed, or experience sleep disorders. Sunshine also acts as a catalyst for you to maintain healthy melatonin, which can maintain effective sleep patterns and emotions as well as serotonin, a neurotransmitter that affects mood. These levels in your body become altered just by being in or viewing these warm rays of sunshine. This lack of sunlight can lead to people experiencing seasonal affective disorder, which isn’t actually a stand alone clinical disorder but a type of winter blues or depression. According to The Mayo Clinic, there are three ways to treat SAD: “SAD (treatment) may include light therapy (photo-therapy), psychotherapy and medication (prescriptions).”
In this Article, I’ll Focus on Photo-therapy (Light Therapy)
In light therapy, also known as photo-therapy, a person sits a few feet from a unique light therapy box in order to be exposed to this bright light without looking directly into it. From scientific research studies, as the light therapy box simulates natural outdoor light, it appears to cause a change in brain chemicals linked to mood and emotions. This allowing a person to feel better within a few short days or weeks.
Why Photo-Therapy is Such an Effective Treatment for S.A.D.
Light box therapy for seasonal affective disorder is one of the first recommended treatments by health professionals for fall season onset of SAD. Since it generally starts working in only a few days to two weeks and causes relatively few side effects, it appears to be quite effective for alleviating and relieving SAD symptoms for most people. Dr. Normal Rosenthal, a senior researcher at The National Institute of Mental Health supports the use of light boxes and describes his incredible findings in this book, Winter Blues: Everything You Need to Know to Beat Seasonal Affective Disorder. A Twitter chat has been created by the NIMH for support as well. Use the hashtag #NIMHchats to learn more.
However, before you decide on and purchase a light therapy box, do some research and talk with your doctor to decide which one would work best for you. It’s important to familiarize yourself with the variety of features and options so that you buy a high-quality product that’s safe and effective in helping you. Try to get a full spectrum light box and one with blue light as these show better results than just the white light ones.
My Recommendations of Light Boxes for Seasonal Affective Disorder
To assist you with your search, I have some reviews here and my recommendations of ones that I’ve used and that work really well for me. I have two different size light boxes for seasonal affective disorder–one for my desk top and one that sits on the top of our bookshelf and lights up the living room. I have never been clinically diagnosed with SAD, but was given a light box as a gift and found that it really indeed helped me to feel better.
This is my desk top light box on the left here. I stand it up right next to my laptop when I’m typing so that I’m able to experience the brightness and stay motivated while I work as well as benefit from its rejuvenating light therapy. It’s called The Portable Sunlight Machine model Sun365, made by Zadro Inc. It emits a calming neon blue light that is adjustable in brightness. It’s great for traveling as it’s about three inches in height and one and a half inches in width. It comes with a carrying pouch, and a wall plugin power source. It can be set to a very bright light or dimmed down accordingly. A drawback is that it doesn’t dim down extremely low, but then again, that is part of its purpose–to shine like the sun! It also comes with a timer, so you can set it to turn on or off at certain times.
The second one that I have is a larger model made by Verilux and it’s called Happy Light. Since it has a greater amount of surface area, it is better at lighting up wider space. The light is more diffused and has a broader reach than the smaller desktop one above. This light box is ideal for a permanent desk or placement as a room add on. It isn’t portable like The Portable Sunlight Machine model Sun365, made by Zadro Inc. However, it isn’t as bright either. The light is still blue, but it is a mellower, lighter blue. I find it calms me more than energizes me. That is why I use the smaller desktop one to keep me focused on work and this Verilux Happy Light on top of a bookshelf in the living room for general relaxation and mood enhancement. It’s usually on while other lamps are on and so it adds to the overall lighting effect and is hardly noticeable.
Lastly, I hope these recommendations assist you in finding the right light box for seasonal affective disorder or just to improve your mood and help in dealing with depression. I encourage you to share your comments and insights below. Do you have a specific light box that you really like and works great? If so, please share it with us! I wish for you a winter of feeling better with the use of light therapy and fully enjoying your new year! Take good care my friend.
Mayo Clinic Staff. “Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) Definition.” Mayo Clinic – Mayo Clinic. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 12 Sept. 2014. Web. 02 Jan. 2015.
Unknown. “NIMH Twitter Chat on Seasonal Affective Disorder.” NIMH RSS. The National Institute of Mental Health, 5 Nov. 2014. Web. 03 Jan. 2015.
Unknown. “Verilux HappyLight Deluxe Light Therapy Lamp for Winter Blues.” Verilux HappyLight Deluxe Light Therapy Lamp for Winter Blues. Verilux Inc., 2015. Web. 03 Jan. 2015.