Light therapy is effective for treating winter depression, also known as seasonal affective disorder, and recent studies show it may help the symptoms of non-seasonal depression too. Winter depression is triggered by low levels of light, which changes the body’s natural biological clock leading to mood disturbances, lack of energy and fatigue.
To help shake off the winter blues, some people buy a light therapy box. These boxes, designed for people who suffer with seasonal affective disorder, provide 10,000 lux of light to mimic natural sunlight and help boost mood. Unfortunately, not everyone understands how to get the full benefits from light therapy box. Here’s how to use a light box for winter depression and get the most benefits.
How to use a Light Box for Depression in the Winter
Always purchase a light therapy box from a reputable company. Choose a model that has 10,000 lux of illumination and an ultraviolet light filter that filters out U.V. light that could damage your skin and eyes. If your eyes are sensitive to light, choose a model that has a light diffuser. Look for a model that’s been tested and proven to work in clinical trials. Don’t base your selection only on price.
Once you have a light box, use it first thing in the morning. In winter, the sun rises later than it does in the summer, and you can compensate by using a light box right after you wake up. Keep the light box about 32 inches away from you, and use it for thirty minutes a day, being careful not to stare directly into the light.
If you’re not getting benefits after 14 days, increase the time you spend in front of the light therapy box to 60 minutes a day. Once you get benefits, continue using the light box for that length of time every morning until light levels increase and the days become longer in the early spring. To avoid the winter blues, you’ll need to re-start the light box treatments again as light levels go down again in the fall.
Light Box Therapy for the Winter Depression: The Bottom Line?
Always talk to your doctor before starting light box therapy. It’s safe, but some people may have conditions or take medications that increase light sensitivity. Make sure you have your doctor’s blessing before using a light box.
Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2004;(2):CD004050.
Medscape.com. “The Truth About Seasonal Affective Disorder”