Seasonal Affective Disorder: Light Therapy Treatment

For the final part of our series, we will discuss the use of artificial light to treat seasonal affective disorder. For those who are averse to taking medications or supplements or are looking for an additional boost, light therapy may be a great treatment option.

What is light therapy?

Light therapy using a bright artificial light has been scientifically proven as effective in reducing the winter depressive symptoms of seasonal affective disorder. Use of a specific type of lightbox helps mimic some of the features of natural sunlight.

In one study, 332 patients from 14 research centers were analyzed over a period of 5 years. Overall, those who were exposed to 2500-lux intensity light for at least two hours each day for a period of one week saw a score reduction of 50% or more to under a level 8 on the Hamilton Depression Rating Scale (HAM-D).

Though proven to be effective, it’s important to note that the National Institute of Mental Health reports that nearly half of all people with seasonal affective disorder don’t see improvement from light therapy alone. In these cases, it is best used as a supplement to other treatment methods.

What kind of light do I use?

While there have been many products developed over the last several decades as researchers have learned more about seasonal affective disorder, there is more to light therapy than simply switching out the bulbs in your home.

Further research has shown that human circadian rhythm is more sensitive to short wavelength light. As a result, light treatment devices that use efficient light-emitting diodes (LEDs) who output is relatively concentrated in short wavelengths may help increase the effectiveness of light therapy. However, some wavelengths of light can be hazardous to your eyes or skin, so it’s important to consult with a healthcare professional before beginning light therapy.

How much light exposure is enough?

The right “dose” of light exposure is dependent on a variety of factors including an individuals needs, lifestyle, time of day, the distance between the user and the device, and the intensity and wavelengths of light that are emitted from the device.

Too much light can have a similar effect as consuming too much caffeine and leave a user feeling “wired.” Not enough exposure, and you may feel as though the treatment is ineffective.

It’s important to consult with a healthcare professional that is experienced in administering and monitoring the effects of light therapy. He/she can help recommend an appropriate light type and illumination “dose” to offset the symptoms of seasonal affective disorder, particularly when cold weather or fewer daylight hours make exposure to outdoor sunlight difficult.

Keep in mind, light therapy requires consistent use over time. It is a commitment that often involves a minimum of 30 minutes per day until the season changes and your exposure to natural sunlight increases. If you are interested in light therapy treatment, you should be prepared to dedicate an appropriate amount of time each day until your symptoms naturally improve.

Learn more about light therapy

If you are experiencing the symptoms of major depression and/or the season-specific depression symptoms, you should contact a physician or healthcare professional. The healthcare professionals at Mind Body Seven, a Brooklyn-based health and wellness practice, can help determine whether you are suffering from seasonal affective disorder and whether light therapy is a safe treatment option for you. To request an appointment, call (212) 621-7770.