As winter settles in, there is an accompanying rise in the prevalence of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a form of depression that occurs typically during the late fall and winter months. When daylight hours shorten in the winter, disruptions to our internal clocks occur, impacting the production of mood-regulating neurotransmitters like serotonin. Substantial research and clinical experience point to bright light therapy as an effective non-invasive treatment for seasonal depression.
Light therapy, also known as phototherapy, involves exposure to a bright light that mimics natural sunlight. The science behind this therapy is rooted in its ability to regulate circadian rhythms and influence neurotransmitter levels. Research has shown that just 20 to 30 minutes of daily exposure to bright light (10,000 lux) can lead to notable improvements in mood, energy levels, and sleep patterns. This makes light therapy a valuable option for those seeking relief from the winter blues.
A large number of light boxes are available on the market, but it can be difficult to know which of those meet the specifications researched for effective treatment of seasonal depression. Light boxes aren't regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for SAD treatment, so it's important to understand your options. The Yale School of Medicine provides helpful information and links to specific light boxes that have been demonstrated to be effective.
Consistency is essential for maximizing the benefits of light therapy. Whether using it while enjoying a morning coffee, catching up on emails, or reading, integrating light therapy into these activities can make it a seamless part of your daily life.
Consult with a healthcare professional to determine if you are a good candidate for light therapy, obtain any individualized recommendations, and discuss any pre-existing eye conditions or medications that may be affected by light exposure. Note that light therapy is not recommended for patients with retinal diseases including macular degeneration, or diseases such as diabetes which may be associated with retinal disease. Light treatment must be monitored with particular caution in individuals with bipolar disorders. It is recommended that light therapy be done under the supervision of a clinician qualified to treat mood disorders.
Additional research and information on light therapy can be found by following the links below:
Harvard School of Public Health
National Institutes of Health
Yale School of Medicine
About the Author
Clinical psychologist Dr. Kristy Novinski contributes insights, book and film reviews, discussions of pop culture, and exploration of news and research in the field of psychology.
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