“Little darling, I feel that ice is slowly melting. Little darling, it feels like years since it’s been clear. Here comes the sun. Here comes the sun, and I say, it’s all right.”
When George Harrison sang this song, it’s likely he was using the rays of the sun as some sort of metaphor to describe a spiritual awakening. But, it’s also true that almost everyone feels as though all is right with the world when the sun is shining. As humans, we seem hard-wired to appreciate bright light, and that light can cause chemical reactions inside our brains that bring us an increased sense of fulfillment and peace.
In the past, people travelled to sunny spots when they felt low, hoping to soak up the sun and feel a little better about life and their place in the world. While travel might be an ideal way to cause a mental boost, it’s not always feasible for everyone. That’s why manufacturers have developed light therapy boxes. These devices are designed to deliver a targeted dose of bright light, and they might help some people overcome conditions related to light deprivation.
*What Is a Light Therapy Box?
A light therapy box is more than a table lamp with a bright light bulb in it. In fact, a light therapy box is likely much brighter, and much more powerful, than any table lamp you’ve ever seen before. A light therapy box is designed with fluorescent bulbs that can deliver the amount of light produced by about 10 standard light bulbs. Some light therapy boxes produce white light, while others deliver a blue light.
How Sessions Work
Experts aren’t quite sure why light therapy is so effective. Some studies suggest that the light stimulates the brain to produce helpful chemicals that regulate the sleep cycle, while turning off chemicals that encourage the brain to slow down and hibernate. In other words, the light therapy might help turn on the processes the brain uses naturally when it is exposed to light. But, more research is needed to determine how the light therapy works at a chemical level in all people.
While light therapy is considered reasonably safe, and manufacturers often attempt to market the boxes to anyone with a pulse and a functioning credit card, the therapy often works best when it’s supervised by a medical professional, according to the Mayo Clinic. A medical professional can help you determine when you should be using your light therapy box, and your doctor can also ensure that you don’t have any conditions that could be worsened by light therapy. For example, you might use topical antibiotics for a skin condition, and light therapy could interact with those medications and cause your skin to redden. A doctor should always supervise your light therapy, just to ensure that these interactions don’t take place.
Typically, in a light therapy session, you will sit close to a light therapy box while it’s turned on, but you won’t look directly at the light. Instead, you might do something near the light. These activities are good options:
- Typing on the computer
Light therapy boxes that deliver a significant amount of light might give you a therapeutic dose in just 30 minutes, but you might need longer sessions if your light therapy box isn’t quite so strong. Your doctor can help you determine how long your sessions should take.
Some people use their light therapy boxes first thing in the morning. The idea here is that the light therapy box will stimulate your brain into believing that spring has arrived and that the days are longer. Some people repeat their therapy sessions in the late afternoon on dark days. Again, this can fool the brain into believing that spring is here and the bright sun of afternoon will be common. Many people use light therapy in the dark months of winter, when light outside is thin and hard to come by. There are some people, however, who continue to use their light therapy boxes throughout the year. This is another decision you’ll make in consultation with your doctor.
*Can I Use a Tanning Bed Instead?
According to the American Cancer Society, light therapy boxes and tanning beds or sun lamps should never be confused. While light therapy boxes typically contain screens that can filter out dangerous UV rays that have been linked to skin cancer, tanning beds and sun lamps often don’t contain this sort of screen. Since many people need light therapy sessions each day, people who use tanning beds or sun lamps for therapy could be exposing themselves to extremely hazardous levels of UV radiation. It’s definitely not safe, nor is it recommended.
Who Can Benefit From Light Therapy?
Light therapy is considered a standard form of care for people who have seasonal affected disorder, or SAD. These people struggle with depression symptoms in the winter, wanting to sleep more and craving foods that are high in carbohydrates. The light therapy boxes replace the light these people need in order to banish depression, and in studies, they have been proven remarkably effective. For example, according to an article published by Columbia University, one study found that of 100 people with SAD, three-quarters improved with just 30-minute sessions with a light therapy box. These people felt remarkably better, just sitting in front of these bright lights.
According to an article published in the New York Times, a study on people who had depression, but not SAD, showed that these individuals also benefitted from light therapy. In this study, involving people 60 and older, 43 percent improved their depression scores with light therapy, compared to 36 percent of those who received a placebo treatment. Three weeks later, 54 percent of those who received light therapy had improved depression scores, while improvement in those who had placebo declined to 33 percent. This study seems to suggest that light therapy could be helpful in treating other forms of depression that aren’t seasonal in nature.
Some therapists also believe light therapy can be useful in treating other mental health conditions such as obsessive-compulsive disorders, dementia and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Research on light therapy for these conditions is ongoing, and not yet conclusive at this point.
There are some people who should not use light therapy. For example, some people who have bipolar disorder experience mania when they’re provided with light therapy. The stimulation from the bright lights seems to trigger the manic episode, and once it’s in place, it’s hard to control. Again, this is why it’s so important to talk to a doctor before receiving light therapy. It might not be the right form of treatment for you.
*Is It My Only Option?
If the idea of sitting in front of a light therapy box isn’t appealing to you, there are other methods you can try in order to help you cope. Some good options include:
- Aerobic exercise. Moving your muscles could help your brain produce higher levels of feel-good chemicals, which might help depression to ease.
- Move furniture toward sunshine. Try to spend time in the brightest, sunniest room in the house in the morning, and push your furniture close to the window.
- Work on therapy. Talk therapy, often provided as an adjunct to light therapy, might also help you to work through your emotions and feelings of sadness.
- Move closer to the equator. People who live far from the equator often deal with long, dark winters. Moving closer to the equator might help to solve that problem.
- Get outside. If you do live in a sunny location, taking walks first thing in the morning, when the sun is rising, might help you get the exposure you need in order to feel more at ease.
Light Therapy and Addiction
People recovering from an addiction issue might face a significant amount of depression. It can be hard to deal with the memories of the substance abuse, and going through therapy can bring up emotions you might not have thought about or dealt with in years. In addition, you might not want to take medications to help you with depression. After all, you’re trying to get clean and stop relying on substances. Taking medications might feel, to you, like a betrayal of that goal.
Light therapy might be a good alternative. It does seem to have the ability to help alleviate symptoms of depression, and it is a completely natural, non-chemical-based way to overcome negative emotions and feel better about yourself. You might also find your light therapy sessions soothing. Taking time in the morning to gather your thoughts and soak up the light might allow you to start the day in a peaceful place, and this might be a routine you use for the rest of life.
If you’re interested in light therapy, contact us at our toll-free number. We can connect you with a treatment facility that integrates light therapy into their program.
*Light Therapy and Sleep
In a study published in the journal Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica, light therapy helped people with dementia improve the length and quality of their sleep. But, light therapy can also have a negative impact on sleep. Exposing your brain to bright lights close to bedtime could cause your brain to release stimulant chemicals, making it harder for you to fall asleep when nighttime arrives. That’s why you’ll need to be sure to turn your light therapy box off, long before it’s time to go to bed. Your doctor can help you get the timing right.