Causes of SAD
Another leading theory suggests that SAD results from the body’s increased production of melanin, a neurotransmitter linked to sleep and depression. As the days get shorter and winter brings less and less light, this theory speculates that the body responds by increasing its melanin levels, which, in turn, triggers the development of SAD.
How Light Therapy Works
How to Start Light Therapy
- avoid looking directly at the bulbs to prevent damage to vision
- incorporate light therapy into their morning routines (Practicing light therapy in the morning, rather than in the evening before you sleep, will prevent you from possibly suffering from sleep problems, such as insomnia.)
- practice light therapy for about 15 to 30 minutes
- practice light therapy regularly (Those who practice light therapy everyday will have far better results than those who only practice it occasionally.)
- sit within a few feet of a bulb
- use bulbs that are 10 to 20 times stronger than typical household bulbs.
Light Therapy Side Effects
- hyperactivity (hypomania)
- moodiness and irritability
- sleeping difficulties, especially if light therapy is practiced in the evening
- visual sensitivity, especially if SAD patients look directly at the light
- worsening fatigue.
The Effectiveness of Light Therapy
Individuals will generally see positive results from light therapy within anywhere from a few days to three weeks of practicing this course of treatment. Daily sessions, lasting from 30-90 minutes, should begin in the late fall and continue through spring. If no significant improvement occurs within six weeks, your doctor may suggest other treatments, including antidepressant medication, behavioral techniques or negative ion reception.
Keep in mind that light therapy can be combined with other SAD treatments, rather than being replaced by them. For example, combining antidepressants with light therapy is also a possible course of treatment. However, some drugs may increase retinal sensitivity and require monitoring by a specialist. Any individual with eye disease should always consult with an ophthalmologist before starting light therapy treatment.
Types of Light Therapy
- Blue spectrum lights: Because blue spectrum lights can cause macular degeneration and other damage to the eyes, they currently aren’t a viable source of light therapy. However, researchers are conducting studies to find ways to make blue spectrum lights safer for light therapy use.
- Dawn simulators: For those who don’t have time to sit in front of a light box each day, dawn simulators can be effective. These programmable devices start emitting low light at a preset time, slowly increasing the light’s intensity to a fully bright light to simulate a normal waking pattern.
- Fluorescent bulbs: These deliver bright light therapy through a framed enclosure that typically comes in a tabletop, box design or as a lamp. Visors with attachable fluorescent lights are also available, although there is some controversy as to their effectiveness.
- Tanning beds: While tanning beds can provide the necessary light to make light therapy effective, they are generally not recommended as they emit UV rays that are damaging to the skin and eyes.
Seasonal Affective Disorder Lights
A seasonal affective disorder light box is easy to use at home or, in many cases, at work. However, keep in mind that not all light boxes are safe for treating seasonal affective disorder. Light boxes range widely in price and size. Because health insurance may not cover the expense, so it’s best to check first.
Consider the following factors when choosing the right light therapy box:
- Directional light: The box should be designed with bulbs directing light downward rather than from below or level with the line of sight.
- Light intensity: Look for boxes with 10,000 lux settings. In addition, you’ll want to know the range of light exposure. In other words, find out how close will you have to sit to receive the maximum benefits.
- Size: While larger boxes are not as portable, they will offer a wider perimeter of therapeutic illumination. As a result, decide whether or not you need to have a portable light box before committing to specific size.
- UV (ultraviolet) and blue light spectrum: Both of these can cause ocular damage and harm the skin. Select a box that produces low levels of each or provides a guarantee that shields are in place for protection.
If depression is interfering with your social interactions and daily activities, see your doctor for a proper SAD diagnosis. Once you have been diagnosed with SAD, starting light therapy can lift your mood and help you get your life back on track.