Learn about light therapy for the winter blues

Along with taking vitamin D supplements, light box therapy is one of the most effective home cures for depression.

In fact, full-spectrum light therapy is frequently recommended  by doctors over antidepressant medications for the treatment for seasonal affective disorder (SAD) — a condition that affects 1.2 million Canadians each winter as sunlight grows scarce.

Light therapy, or luminotherapy, involves sitting or working near a special box or device that emits bright light mimicking natural sunlight. If you experience the winter blahs, light therapy may be just what you need to get through the long, dark days of January and February. Below are five important things to know about luminotherapy.

All light boxes are not created equal

The intensity of light emitted by a light therapy box is measured in lux. The higher the lux, the more intense the light will be and the shorter the treatment time required. A 2,500-lux lamp, for example, may require that you bathe in the light for 2 hours daily, while a 10,000-lux lamp can shorten your treatment time to just 30 minutes a day.

Blue light can boost your moods

Although exposure to blue light at night has been found to reduce melatonin production and disrupt the brain’s natural sleep-wake cycle, research shows that bathing in blue light during the day can have mood-elevating benefits. It’s believed that blue light plays an integral role in your brain’s ability to regulate emotions, thereby preventing depression and SAD. A study conducted by Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston found that artificial blue light helps improve focus and alertness, especially during the winter months.

Light therapy isn’t only for depression

While the most popular use of the light therapy box is to treat depression and SAD, luminotherapy has also been found to be effective in the treatment of sleep disorders, skin conditions, and even dementia.

Light therapy isn’t harmless

Many people assume that because light therapy doesn’t involve medications, it can’t be harmful. While light therapy is generally considered to be safe, overexposure to bright light can lead to uncomfortable side effects like eye strain, headaches, and nausea. Another serious concern is exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light. According to the Mayo Clinic, using a light box that isn’t designed to filter out harmful UV light can lead to eye and skin damage.

Light boxes can be expensive

A new light box can cost anywhere from $250 to over $600 depending on its features and the intensity of light it puts out, but the initial price tag isn’t the only factor to consider when considering the cost of a light box. You’ll also need to take running costs into account. Generally, the higher-priced light boxes have long-lasting LEDs and require shorter treatment times, which can help keep your energy and bulb replacement costs low over the long term.

A good alternative to buying a brand new light box is to purchase second-hand. This way, you can enjoy all of the features and benefits of a higher-quality model for much less than the retail price. Buying a used light box is an especially good idea if you’re new to luminotherapy, as you can test out the effectiveness of a few different models before investing in a new unit.