Light therapy is particularly useful if you suffer from seasonal affective disorder (your mood is affected by winter days that have limited sun) but can also be beneficial to major depression as well. One of the first things I got when I returned from that lovely little jaunt to the hospital was a bright light that was made to treat SAD, and had a built in timer to make sure I got the right amount of light. Light therapy may work to elevate mood by activating the brain’s “circadian pacemaker” which regulates sleep cycles. Since depression is so closely linked to sleep troubles, there’s very likely a correlation. Release of endorphins in
Light therapy or phototherapy is a form of treatment in which you’re exposed to an artificial light source in order to treat various types of sleep disorders and depression. If you’re feeling depressed during winter months, you should talk to your doctor to see if you may benefit from the exposure to light therapy.
Light therapy primarily treats major depressive disorder with seasonal patterns (formerly known as seasonal affective disorder or SAD). This is a type of depression that occurs during a certain time of the year, usually winter. Other conditions, such as sleep disorder and other types of depression are also treated with light therapy.
It is thought that lack of exposure to sunlight is linked to major depressive disorder with seasonal patterns. Light therapy is meant to compensate and act as sunlight during winter time. The way it works is by you sitting near a light box. This box emits strong light that imitates the sunlight, although there could be variations to that. Amount of light used in the treatment is measured by the unit called lux gauges. About 2,500 to 10,000 lux is the standard output of a light box.
While most people with seasonal affective disorder are getting affected by it during winter time, treatment for SAD starts in fall and continues into early spring. Person is being treated every day in 10 to 15 minutes sessions. Duration of the session will depend on how well you handle treatment and strength of the light box you use. It is often suggested that at the beginning of using a light box you start off with shorter treatments. If light box is powerful in strength then treatment should be shorter.
Although some experts believe that success of treatment with light therapy is due to placebo effect, other researchers think that this kind of light imitates sunlight and therefore naturally increases production of serotonin in the brain. Serotonin is the brain chemical that is linked to feeling good. As long as it works it shouldn’t really matter why it works.
Unfortunately, there are some side effects to light therapy that include sunburn and headache which are usually not serious. Some side effects can be alleviated by adjusting the length and intensity of treatment. There are other ways how we can deal with side effects by using eye drops, nasal drops or sunscreen. People that usually experience side effects are the ones that have a history of skin cancer, eye conditions or sensitive skin.
There are many positive aspects to treatment with light therapy. It is very convenient as it can be done home using rented or purchased light boxes. Other positive aspects are that light therapy is non-invasive, safe and associated with few or mild side effects.
However, there are some negative aspects to light therapy including dry eyes and nose, sunburn, fatigue, headache, insomnia and hypomania which reflects in prolonged period of heightened mood.
Experts suggest that light therapy or phototherapy be used in addition to other treatments, which include prescribed medication for depression and anxiety treatment. Light therapy is often effective but should not be used instead of medication treatment, but rather as a supplement to the prescribed therapy. If you feel that this therapy might be useful to you, it is best to be discussed with the doctor first.