Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD is something that CAN be helped with a ‘light box’ – a little SAD lamp that helps to boost the levels of vitamin D in your body and also helps rebalance your circadian rhythm. Used either alone or with the help of medication such as antidepressants or even counseling, light therapy has been proven to be an effective way to deal with the winter-associated condition, and the awful symptoms that come hand in hand with it.
Essentially, all light boxes do pretty much the same thing. They mimic the way that ‘outdoor light’ affects your body and to be more specific, your brain.
The light that the lamp gives off creates a kind of chemical reaction within the brain and this system of events helps to alleviate a bad, depressed mood, and can help with many of the accompanying symptoms. Even something as small as thirty minutes in the morning could be all it takes… But you do need to make sure you are making the right decision when you purchase one.
1. Check with your doctor if light therapy is the right option for you
There are a lot of other medical conditions that could be causing the same symptoms that often accompanies SAD. If you have not been diagnosed by a medical professional, or been advised to use light therapy by your doctor, you could end up doing more harm than good.
Some of the symptoms that come hand in hand with the winter blues include fatigue, which is caused by a whole bunch of other medical complaints, plus loss of appetite which could also be caused by something more sinister. If the problem that you’re suffering from isn’t SAD, the lamp is going to prove to be a complete waste of your time and money.
Plus if you use the lamp unnecessarily, you could end up causing half the problems you are trying to avoid such as nausea, headaches, and even feelings of agitation.
Precautions have to be made in persons suffering from eye and skin conditions, because the exposure to light could affect them in various ways. By using light therapy, you could be causing further damage so buying an over-the-counter SAD lamp is not a good idea.
Conditions like bipolar depression can be agitated by inappropriate use of light therapy. The light rays can actually cause episodes of mania within bipolar patients so as you can probably imagine, using one is not the best idea.
Essentially, if you haven’t been diagnosed or you have any doubts or questions, always check with your doctor before you starting self-treating yourself with light boxes!
2. Look for a lamp specifically designed to treat seasonal affective disorder.
There are quite a few different types of light therapy devices on the market, and each of them are used for different things. This is why you should get advice from a doctor – they know what they are doing and what you need. By guessing, you run the risk of getting it wrong.
Lot of the light therapy devices are designed to treat skin conditions or to help with wound healing. You need to make sure you are not buying these as they will not help with your Seasonal Affective Disorder.
Even if you are looking at products specifically designed to help treat the winter blues symptoms you will find that some are less effective than others. There are things called light caps or light visors which you can buy that are worn on the head. Again, these come in varying strengths and intensities, and are designed for longer-term use. Reviews about the efficacy of these products are mixed, but in general these are considered only as supplementary options to a regular light box.
You also have dawn simulators which can help you get a brighter start to your day. These wake you up in the morning gradually, as the sun would, and have been shown to be very effective for those that suffering during the darker winter nights and mornings. They work by helping to decrease the levels of melatonin in the body in the morning. When you wake up to natural light, you are woken up slowly and naturally rather than being screeched awake by a loud alarm clock in an almost-black room.
With LED lamps and traditional bulk light boxes as well as daylight bulbs and full spectrum lamps, picking the right one is important to getting the best treatment. Dawn simulators help with the sleeping and waking patterns of a SAD sufferer, for example, but it won’t do the job that a full-on light box can do for you.
3. Buy a clinically tested light box
The good thing about being able to buy your light boxes on the internet is the fact that you can get a lot of information on your side before you choose to buy. Amazon, for example, gives you the opportunity to read the reviews and specifications before you part with your cash, and you should check out the smaller details of information such as whether it has been clinically tested.
4. Buy a lamp with the right KIND of light
Light boxes or rather the light they emit come in different colors.
Blue light boxes aren’t ideal for those with bipolar depression. They can help by suppressing melatonin, shifting circadian rhythm and by making you feel more. These light boxes have been shown in studies to have a much better effect than red light boxes, with the blue one showing a faster decrease in SAD symptoms with regular usage. The efficacy of blue lights is backed up by research, some researchers however warn about possible toxicity to the eye. Red lights are pretty much useless now, especially with the technology that full spectrum, blue and white lights have to offer.
Full spectrum light boxes generally tend to be a little bit more expensive but the light they give off appeals to many. These lamps are considered to be the best at effectively mimicking sunlight. Then again, it is not sure you need to get a light that is similar to the sun to help with winter blues, but if you find the quality of light better, go for one of these boxes!
White lights are considered by some people as too bright but are meant to give off a powerful enough light for battling SAD. These white boxes have been around for the longest time and are generally considered as safe and effective.
See – speaking with your doctor about the TYPE of light box you need isn’t such a bad idea now, is it?
5. You need a SAD lamp that emits at least 10,000 lux
If you’re buying a lamp with less than this, you’re wasting your money as more than likely it won’t do much. Read the specifications of the lamp (this is why Amazon etc. are such a great idea) and make sure that you are buying one that is actually going to do the job you want it to.
Just to give you an idea of the whole lux factor – the average room is just 500 lux during natural daylight. The average clear sunny day in the shade will give you about 10,000 lux and that’s why you need a light box that replicates this – it’s your best chance of boosting the right chemicals within the body with contact with ‘sunny day light’. If you are trying to mimic this lux value with your lamp, what’s the point in going for anything less?
6. Look out for ultraviolet rays
A good SAD lamp will have a filter built in to protect you from UV light, especially with full spectrum light boxes, and one that has been built to the right standards will sufficiently protect you. You are going to want to look for a lamp that emits as little of this UV light as you can.
7. Buy a decent-sized light box
Clearly you’re going to want a light box that will fit in your home. For example, a small light box would fit perfectly beside the computer on your desk to give you that boost as you check your emails first thing in the morning. The box itself will need to be within one to two feet (30-60 centimeters) of you, just to give you an idea of how big you can go.
The bigger the light box, the bigger the light given out by it, so the faster you will reap the benefits and the more in abundance you will find the relief being.
The thing about light boxes is that they only work when you are in front of them. With a small light box even the smallest of movements to move your head away from that perfect therapeutic range will reduce the effectiveness of the treatment so essentially, a box that is too small would just prove to be a waste of your hard earned cash as well as your time.
8. Think about flexibility!
Think about when and where you will use the light box and buy a device that suits your particular needs. If you like light early in the morning make sure you buy a lamp that fits on your night stand or on your breakfast table.
If you plan to use the lamp while you are exercising on your treadmill or rowing machine then you might want to buy a lamp you can hang on the wall in front of you.
If you are going to need something that can easily be moved around or something you can take with you on a business trip, portable, smaller designs may be a good idea for you.
Bear in mind the placement of the lamp. Keep in mind that most boxes need to be within 1-2 feet (30-60 centimeters) of you and they should be directed at your eyes at a slight angle to avoid glaring. Height and tilt adjustable models might be the best to fit different needs
Buying a light box should be an investment, and it’s not something that you’re going to want to rush into without thinking and prior planning. Hopefully these smart tips will point you in the right direction of grabbing the right light therapy box for you!