How light therapy can help with seasonal affective disorder (SAD) – Cleveland Clinic

Winter months can mean snowball fights, hot chocolate, and holiday decorations, but they also mean less sunshine. And less sunlight can lead to Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), which is now known as major depressive disorder with a seasonal pattern.

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SAD is a form of depression that usually occurs in the fall or winter. Lack of sunlight affects our circadian rhythms, a name given to the “internal biological clock” which regulates the 24 hour cycle of biological processes in our body.

Reduced sunlight can also cause your serotonin levels to drop and melatonin levels to become imbalanced, which can play a role in your sleep patterns and mood.

For many, the use of light therapy can help treat SAD and other conditions like depression and sleep disturbances.

Psychologist Adam Borland, PsyD, explains how light therapy works and how to use it at home.

What is light therapy?

Also known as light therapy or light therapy, light therapy can be used to treat SAD and other conditions using artificial light. To use light therapy, you must sit or work near a light therapy box for about 30 minutes.

“Especially in winter, our bodies react to grayness, cold and lack of natural sunlight,” says Dr Borland. “What light therapy does is compensate for the lack of exposure we get from natural sunlight.”

Types of light therapy

While most light boxes or other light therapy devices use full spectrum fluorescent light, there are also different types of light therapy that may offer benefits beyond treating SAD.

  1. Red. Although more research is needed to see if the use of red light therapy is effective in treating wounds, ulcers, and pain, it is likely to be helpful in reducing scarring and improving the growth of hair.
  2. Blue. In addition to helping people with SAD and depression, blue light can help fight sun damage and acne.
  3. Green. Research shows that the green light may be beneficial in helping people with migraines.

Benefits of light therapy

Assistance to CAS

About 5% of adults in the United States suffer from SAD, which tends to start in adulthood. About 75% of people with seasonal affective disorder are women.

If you have SAD, you may experience some of the following symptoms:

  • Sadness.
  • Anxiety.
  • Weight gain.
  • Lack of energy.
  • Difficulty concentrating.
  • Irritability.

To get the most effective and long-lasting boost to your alertness, mood, energy, and focus, it’s important to use light therapy regularly. Research shows that light therapy is considered the best treatment for SAD.

Help with depression

By helping your circadian rhythm and balancing serotonin levels, research shows light therapy can improve depression.

A study shows that whether light therapy was used alone or with fluoxetine, an antidepressant drug, it was effective in improving symptoms of depression.

Help with sleep disorders

If you suffer from insomnia or circadian rhythm disturbances while sleeping, research shows that using light therapy can help by positively affecting the levels of melatonin and serotonin in your brain.

It can also help you establish and maintain an ideal sleep schedule.

Help with the effectiveness of antidepressant drugs

If you are taking an antidepressant, consider using light therapy in conjunction with your medications.

“What it does is help balance and activate serotonin in our brains,” says Dr Borland. “So if someone is on medication and engages in talk therapy, all of these things can definitely help improve mood.”

How to use light therapy

While there are light therapy options like dawn stimulators and natural spectrum bulbs, the use of a softbox (a flat panel device that uses full spectrum fluorescent light) is the most common. in the treatment of SAD.

If you want to use a softbox, there are a lot of affordable options available. But Dr Borland says do your homework and look for one that gives an output of 2,500 to 10,000 lux (a way to measure the brightness of light).

Here is the best way to use your light box:

  • Use a timer. Dr Borland says that while the amount of time you need to use your light box differs from person to person, most people tend to use it for 30 minutes a day. “The good thing is that most light boxes come with a timer,” he says.
  • Use it in the morning. Try to use it as early in the day as possible, says Dr Borland. Using it at night can have negative effects.
  • Do not look directly into the light. Place your light box on your desk or table, to the side. “Just use it as a passive light source and don’t examine it directly,” says Dr Borland.

Dr. Borland cautions you that you should speak to your health care provider before starting light therapy. This may not be the best option for people with vision problems, those taking certain medications like anti-inflammatories or antibiotics, people sensitive to light, and those with bipolar disorder.

You may also experience headaches, blurred vision, fatigue, and eye strain while using light therapy. If symptoms worsen, call your doctor.

But with its affordability and convenient small size, using a softbox can be beneficial.

“Enter with an open mind,” says Dr Borland. “It’s something that can be used in addition to medication, talk therapy, exercise, and socialization – all of those things that are important in life.”

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