Autumn is now in full swing, and with daylight savings ending just a few a days ago, the days are now definitely shorter. As you may know from one of my previous posts, it is during the darker and cooler days of autumn and winter that people tend to develop seasonal depression (aka seasonal affective disorder, S.A.D.). One of the main treatments for SAD is using a light therapy box. It can be confusing and difficult sometimes to know when to start, but this guide was created to help you learn how to pick an SAD light box that will work best for you.
Please note, the information contained in this post is for informational purposes only. It is not meant to replace any medical advice. Please consult with your doctor before beginning a light therapy regimen. Additionally, this post is no way sponsored by any of the manufacturers listed below. I have received no compensation or request from these companies to review their products.
What is a lightbox? How does it work?
A lightbox, sometimes also called a Light Therapy Box, or SAD Lamp, is a form of lamp that produces very bright light. It’s intention is to mimic the effects of the sun on the receptors of your eyes. By doing so, it allows your body to reset it’s circadian rhythm, and promote the release of chemicals that improve mood. It is has been shown to improve both mood and sleep disorders.
What to look for in a light box
- Has it been approved as a light therapy device? Certain light therapy devices have been certified medically to help with S.A.D. There are some light box which emit different types of light (i.e. UV light) that made specifically for other uses, such as severe acne or skin disorders. So it should be stated somewhere that the light box you are looking at is made specifically for Seasonal Affective Disorder (S.A.D.). Please note that SAD lights are set up to filter out any UV lights. So there should not be a risk of UV exposure when using a light box.
- How bright is the light? For light therapy to be effective, you must use a light therapy lamp/box that produces 10,000 lux. This is the brightness that mimics a bright sunny day outside. Just to explain how vastly different this is, even when you have all the lights on in your home or office, the average lux (which is how the intensity of light is measured) is only about 500. It may seem bright to you, but it is not high enough for your body to reset it’s circadian rhythm. If a box your looking at has a slightly lower setting, you will need to use it for a longer period over the course of the day.
- LED vs Fluorescent lights – More recently, some boxes have started using LED lights as opposed to the traditionally fluorescent lights. To date, research shows both to be effective.
- Blue vs. White light – At the moment, most research on light boxes have shown the bright white lights to be most effective. While there is some support for blue light, more research is needed before I would fully suggest this to my clients.
Keeping your routine in mind
Once you’ve identified what things you need to look for in a light therapy lamp or box, it’s also important to note where you’ll be using it most. For standard use, it is important to use the light box for a minimum of 30 minutes in the morning; however, if you suffer from Bipolar disorder, it is recommended to use the box later on in the day. If you find that you’re rushing out the door to work, and are unable to use the lightbox before you go, you may want to find a lamp that suits your desk more. However, if you have plenty of time in the morning for using the lamp, you may be less bound by this. Below are some common styles and recommended brands of light boxes.
For the office
Some people may want to use their SAD lamp in their office, but may not want a box that looks quite as intrusive. Although more expensive, you can easily purchase lamps that look like regular lamps. Lumie offers a light therapy lamp that looks like a desklamp.
For the home
If you’re using the light box at home where no one else but family is around, you can also use a light box like the one pictured here. The nice thing about this light box is that because it is much larger, you do not have to use it for as long during the day. The way the lamp is shaped, it can directly face you as opposed to being slightly out of your field of vision as the desk lamp above.
I’m asked about these quite a lot, as to whether or not they can help. Because these sunrise alarms do emit a very bright light, they can be helpful. However, I recommend these only if your SAD symptoms are not as strong. If you suffer from strong symptoms of SAD, it is better for you to purchase a proper SAD light therapy box or lamp to see the full results.
There are several different places within Ireland and Dublin that you can purchase light boxes and for varying prices. Please note, if you have a doctor write out that you suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder, you can purchase these items tax/VAT free and claim it back on your taxes as a medical device. Please ask your doctor for more information on this.
Lumie is a very well known brand of light therapy boxes, mostly because they have been endorsed and certified by the National Health Service in the United Kingdom. They are, however, more expensive than some other brands, with prices ranging from about €150-€220. Their products can be purchased through their website, or through your local Boots pharmacy.
For a cheaper option, and this is actually the box I, myself, use, you can purchase a light box at Maplin Electronics. This can be purchased in their stores (within Dublin they have one location in Jervis Shopping Centre and one in Blanchardstown). You can purchase this on their website for about £70.
Phillips has also recently joined the group to produce their own light boxes and lamps. If you sign up for their newsletter, you can even get 10% of your order. However, at the moment they mostly offer sunrise alarms and only one light box. Their light-box uses blue light only, as opposed to research proven white light. In my opinion, more research needs to come out first on blue-only light boxes before they are suggested as a treatment option.
Tune in next week to learn how to use a light box properly after you’ve purchased one.
Nicole Paulie is a Counselling Psychologist, and co-author of “How to be Happy and Healthy – The seven natural elements of mental health.” She provides therapy in the Dublin city area. Contact us to learn more or to book an appointment.