If you’ve ever suffered from a minor form of seasonal depression (also known as seasonal affective disorder) or if you just haven’t had enough energy for your early morning job, you may have heard something about the benefits of light therapy. You may have heard about light boxes, boxes that you look at that send a set amount of light to your eyes to give you more energy. However, many people accept this technology without really knowing the science behind it; others dismiss it as silliness, again without understanding the basic concepts at hand.
Light boxes, when used correctly, are a great form of light therapy, and can lead to more energy and less depression during the darker winter months. Here’s an overview of how they work.
What Is Light Therapy?
Light therapy scientists claim that seasonal depression and a decent amount of the fatigue that many people deal with is caused by a simple lack of light to the eyes.
The pineal gland, located behind the eyes, produces a chemical known as melatonin, the chemical that makes us tired (and may also contribute to disorders such as ADHD). This chemical is primarily produced when no light is hitting the retinas, and is probably an evolutionary response that helped to regulate early humans’ sleep cycles.
As we’ve evolved and become more technically advanced, however, we’ve built offices and other places of work where we spend 8-10 hours of our days without much light, except for the occasional flickering fluorescent bulb which doesn’t provide nearly the amount of light that the sun provides.
The sun’s light, when measured in units of “lux” (the standard unit of illumination) is somewhere from 50,000-100,000. Your home or office lighting only provides about 200-500 lux.
Pretty big difference, isn’t it? With less light, our bodies produce more melatonin, and the negative effects of the chemical, such as seasonal affective disorder, depression, fatigue, and other not-so-great phenomena tend to occur.
Light therapy aims to avoid this, and light boxes are a cornerstone of that technology. Light boxes produce about 10,000 lux, which are viewed directly, giving them about the same power as some time in the sun (seeing as how you never actually look directly at the sun). They safely simulate the sunlight you’re missing, stopping your body from producing too much melatonin.
Most light boxes come with clear instructions that will tell you how to organize a session of light therapy. Generally, you’ll look at the light box during the times of day that you would normally feel tired, for somewhere from 15 to 30 minutes. You don’t want to overuse a light box.
Go for standard light instead of blue light, as it is more helpful and natural for your body. You may also decide to invest in a dawn simulator, which is a light therapy device that gradually gets brighter over the course of 45 minutes, tricking your body into thinking that it’s dawn and often giving you an extra bit of energy.
There is definite science behind light therapy, and anyone experiencing lag or SAD should give it a try. It may make your days just a little bit brighter.