Light therapy is a proven non-medication treatment method for all causes of depression, not just for those with seasonal depression. Recent research points to it having as much benefit as an antidepressant, so please consider it a 1st line treatment.
Please read below about all the ins and outs of light therapy, but before getting to that I’ll tell you the best brands to consider:
*Carex Day-Light Classic or Classic Plus ($120)
*Northern Light Technologies BOXelite OS ($200)
What time of year should light therapy begin?
It should be done year round for those with regular (non-seasonal) depression.
If you just have depression in the darker/winter months, then consider starting 2 weeks prior to the typical onset of depression (September for most) and stop 2 weeks after the depression typically would go away (May usually).
Besides depression, what can it help with?
Shift work disorder
Delayed Sleep Disorder
Sexual dysfunction in men
What time of day is best to use the light box?
For depression (without bipolar disorder) the best times are in the morning, when you wake up (5am to 8am).
Do NOT use the box after 2:30pm or it will likely lead to trouble sleeping.
For those with bipolar disorder, the best times are 12pm-2pm.
How much time do you need in front of the light box?
Assuming the box emits over 10,000 lux, you need 30 minutes in most cases. This can be increased to 2 hours per morning in cases that are more resistant.
If you have bipolar disorder, start with only 15 minutes per day for the first 2 weeks and then increase by 15 minutes per day thereafter if things are going well (no mania is induced).
Can I do something while I’m getting light therapy?
Yes! You can read, eat, or use a laptop while under it.
What position should the box be?
Each manufacturer/model may differ, so follow their instructions first. But in most cases, it’s ideal to sit 12-14 inches away from the box and have the box positioned such that the bottom third of the box is at eye level, then tilt the box so it hovers at an angle of 30–45 degrees over your head.
Do NOT look directly at the light.
Can I wear sunglasses during the treatment?
No, that will block the effects. Regular reading glasses are fine.
What are the potential side effects of light therapy?
Very rare, but some may get headaches, eye strain, nausea, or insomnia. In these cases try to cut your time back daily to see if that helps.
What if I have trouble waking up— will this help?
If depression is not a concern, then we would recommend using something called a dawn simulator. That can benefit mood and make it easier to get up daily.
Look for either:
*Jall Wake Up Light Sunrise Alarm Clock or
*Philips SmartSleep Wake-up Light
Is light therapy not ok for anyone?
Light therapy should be used in extreme caution in those with a history of manic symptoms (bipolar disorder) or those with eye issues, such as glaucoma, cataracts, or retinopathy, in which case you should be under the supervision of an ophthalmologist.
We also suggest caution in those on medications that may increase photosensitivity such as lamotrigine or tricyclic antidepressants.
Posted by David Danish MD