You may have heard of full-spectrum light therapy before and wondered if it's something that can help you. After all, there are so many different types of Mental Health treatments and alternative treatments that are available. So, how do you know which one is the right one for you? When it comes to Mental Health, full spectrum light therapy is generally used to treat people that are going through seasonal affective disorder (SAD) but can help those with other forms of depression as well.
When people are undergoing full spectrum light therapy, they have a light therapy box that they use in their treatment. This is simply a box that puts out a light that a person stands or sits in front of. That's the simplest explanation for it.
The light is supposed to be replicating the natural sunlight that we benefit from as humans. So, light therapy is as simple as sitting in front of the light. You can have your eyes open but should not look directly at the light, or you can close your eyes. This is not something that typically just works in an instant. But, if you are consistent with it for the right amount of time, you can notice an improvement to your depression symptoms and mental health.
Three separate components come into play when doing light therapy. The first is the light intensity. This is known as lux, and it indicates the amount of light that you are receiving during your therapy sessions. The standard to use for light therapy for SAD (seasonal affective disorder), is a 10,000 lux light when you are between 16 and 24 inches away from it. However, it is important that you talk to your doctor first before buying a light. You'll want to ask them exactly what they want you to look for in a light.
The other things that will impact the effectiveness of your light therapy session are the duration and the timing. These are also things that you're going to want to talk to your doctor or therapist about. Many people feel that it benefits them to do light therapy first thing in the morning. However, this is something that your therapist can help you determine in your situation. The duration of your therapy sessions depends on the type of light that you have purchased. The higher or lower the lux is, it will impact the amount of time that you should be in front of it.
When Did Light Therapy Become Popular?
The answer to this question depends on what exactly you're looking for. People have believed in the power of sunlight for healing for centuries. Natural light has been used as a medical treatment for as long as people can document. However, light therapy boxes didn't start to become popular until the 1990s. Then, the number of success stories that continue to come out of the use of light therapy have continued to keep it in the spotlight.
Who Needs Light Therapy?
Light therapy can be used to treat several different diseases and disorders, but for this article, we're going to stick with mental health. The people who can benefit the most from light therapy are people who struggle with depression, especially seasonal affective disorder. However, it can also be used for other types of depression and also to help people with circadian rhythm sleep disorders or those who travel frequently and experience jet lag.
Note that some studies show that blue light can also help you sleep better. Blue light from screens can suppress melatonin but research has shown that exposure to blue light during the day can improve alertness.
What Are The Symptoms Of Seasonal Affective Disorder?
The symptoms of SAD are the same as that of other forms of depression. The main differentiator is that it is depression that occurs only during certain times of the year. For the majority of people, this will be during the winter (often referred to as the winter blues), but there are also people who experience it during a different season.
This means that the symptoms of depression start around the same time every year and leave around the same time every year. It works like it's a cycle and it's something that you're able almost to predict.
Symptoms of depression include feeling sad or down, but it can also include feeling angry and more irritable. You may experience a change in your sleeping pattern and a change in your desire to eat. Some people sleep more and other sleep last. Some people eat more, and others eat less. Many people experiencing depression also start to withdraw from friends and family and the things that they enjoy in life. It can almost make them want to shut down.
Why Can't We Just Go Outside?
You may be wondering if full spectrum light therapy is really just giving people artificial sunlight, why can't we just go outside to take in actual sunlight. The best light is natural sunlight. However, in this day and age, there are money people that experience a shortage of the natural sunlight that they need. This could be people who work long hours and find themselves in the office when it's dark in the morning and not leaving until it's dark at night or people that don't live where they can get enough light during the day.
Light therapy also comes into play in with seasonal affective disorder in states that experience less sunlight during the winter months. Many people are affected by SAD between fall and early spring. This is because many states have more cloudy days in the winter and when you combine that with shorter daylight hours, it can make for a depressing setting.
So, even if people can go outside throughout the day, they may not be able to get the amount of natural sunlight that they need to see the full benefit. Light therapy boxes can help.
How To Get A SAD Light Therapy Box?
If a light therapy box is something that sounds like it could help with symptoms that you're experiencing with your Mental Health, the good news is it’s easy to get one. You can buy them online or in stores without having any type of a prescription. However, you're still going to want to talk to a doctor or therapist before getting one.
There are some adverse side effects that you can experience if you do not use a light therapy box correctly. There are also some people that shouldn't use therapy boxes. So, if you run out and buy one of the light boxes without talking to a doctor first, you could see a decline in your health instead of the benefits that you were looking for.
Light therapy boxes can range in price from $20 to thousands of dollars. This is another reason why you want to talk to a professional before running out and buying one. As you've probably heard before, "you get what you pay for." Buying the cheapest box may not be the best option for your mental health challenges. So, always talk to you a professional before making a decision or spending any money on a light and to determine the best light for your condition.
And, the final thing that you're going to want to consider when purchasing a light therapy box is UV rays. There are many boxes available on the market that are UV free. This is the type of light that you're going to want to look for. The Verilux HappyLight, for example, mimics sunlight without UV rays, as does the Carex Day-Light Classic. The Carex Day-Light Classic has two light mode settings, allow you to use it as a desk lamp when it’s not being used as a therapy light. Some therapy lamps – such as the Verilux HappyLight – come with a satisfaction guarantee.
If this all sounds a bit overwhelming, you may also find comparison guides helpful in making your selection. News outlets including The New York Times, The Huffington Post and Good Housekeeping, among others, walk through the differences across makes and models offered by leading manufacturers.
What Should I do If I think Light Therapy Would Work For Me?
If you think that light therapy is there the right option for you, it's time to make an appointment to talk with a therapist. You will want to look for one that specializes in or is at least experienced in light therapy. This is an alternate form of mental health treatment that not all therapists will do. That means, before making an appointment you want to make sure that you’re meeting with a therapist that is in line with your desires.
During your initial therapy session, you can talk to the therapist about types of treatment that are available and tell them why you would like to try light therapy. They will also give you their opinion on what treatment path will be right for you. For some people, light therapy will be the only form of treatment that they need. However, there are others they'll also benefit from other forms, such as psychotherapy along with light therapy sessions.
Does Full Spectrum Light Therapy Work?
If you think that light therapy sounds too good to be true, you're not alone. Many people are suspicious that light therapy could help out with their depression. It's important that you remember that light therapy is not going to be the right option for everyone. It is not a cure-all for depression. However, some people experience amazing results in improving their mental health and levels of depression through full spectrum light therapy.
If you are struggling with your mental health because of seasonal affective disorder or the winter blues, light therapy could be the right option for you. However, don't rule out traditional forms of therapy like those offered when you see a therapist in person, or through online therapy. It's often a combination of treatment that will provide the best benefit for people struggling with mental health challenges such as depression.
More Commonly Asked Questions
What is full spectrum light therapy?
Do full spectrum lights really work?
What are the benefits of using full spectrum light?
What are the 3 types of light therapy?
Do you get vitamin D from full spectrum lights?
What are the side effects of light therapy?
How long does it take for light therapy to be effective?
Do full spectrum lights help with depression?
Are full spectrum lights safe for humans?
How do you know if a light is full spectrum?
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
What is full spectrum light therapy?
Light therapy is generally used to treat people with seasonal affective disorder (SAD) and can also help treat other types of depression, sleep disorders and reduce jet lag. The treatment involves a light therapy box that replicates natural sunlight. This natural lighting is believed to cause a chemical change in the brain that lifts mood and offers relief from other symptoms of the affective disorder. Full spectrum refers to the type of light used in the therapy.
How do you use full spectrum light therapy?
In full spectrum light therapy, a patient sits in front of a light therapy box that replicates natural sunlight. The standard light intensity for treating SAD has 10,000 lux when sitting between 16 and 24 inches away. Typically doctors recommend sitting in from of the light box when you first wake up in the morning for 20-30 minutes.
Some manufacturers are selling sunrise alarm clocks, alarm clocks that ease you awake using light (rather than sound) over a 30-minute period. Fans of sunrise alarm clocks say the approach is a less jarring way to start the day.
Do full spectrum lights really work?
The Cleveland Clinic notes that bright light therapy is considered the first line of treatment for SAD. Although light therapy is not right option for everyone and is not a cure-all for depression or mood disorders, many people who experience the “winter blues” report impressive results. For others, bright light therapy may be more effective when combined with another treatment, such as counseling or medication.
What is the best light therapy lamp for SAD?
The Center for Environmental Therapeutics offers quidance that can help you decide which kind of light therapy lamp to purchase to help treat seasonal affective disorder. Factors you may want to consider in deciding on the best light for you include light intensity, safety, cost, style and dual purpose (some lights can double as desk lamps). In general, the center suggests that the best lights have been tested in peer-reviewed, placebo-controlled clinical trials, provide 10,000 lux light illumination, include a diffusing screen that filters out ultraviolet rays, projects light downward to avoid glare, is at least 15” wide and 12” high and emits a white light or soft white light.
You may also find comparison guides helpful in making your selection. The New York Times’ Wirecutter reviewed light box models for 2021 and deemed the Carex Day-Light Classic Plus the best light therapy lamp to treat SAD symptoms. The roundup acts as a side-by-side comparison guide for three leading light boxes.
Does light therapy really work for wrinkles?
Beauty magazines and blogs have written extensively about the possible benefits of light-emitting diode (LED) skin devices. Some research suggests there is truth to claims that these emerging products could help reduce wrinkles, redness and other signs of aging, but more study is necessary to fully understand their effectiveness. Keep in mind, though, that products advertised as light therapy for skin are not the same as those used to treat depression.
Is full spectrum light dangerous?
Light therapy is considered safe, but like any treatment it’s important to maintain a dialogue with your doctor if your symptoms are not improving or they are getting worse. The Mayo Clinic suggests that people with sensitive skin or eye conditions should speak with their doctor prior to beginning treatment. Side effects are generally mild but could include eyestrain, headache, nausea, irritability or agitation and mania, euphoria, hyperactivity or agitation associated with bipolar disorder. The Skin Cancer Foundation warns against using tanning beds as a means to attempt to treat SAD symptoms.
How long does it take for light therapy to work?
The best way to know whether light therapy is working is to monitor your mood. Many patients respond to bright light therapy within 2-4 days, but each situation will be unique.
Do full spectrum light bulbs help with vitamin D?
The Cleveland Clinic notes that light therapy lamps don’t impact vitamin D production. If you are looking to increase your vitamin D, instead look for supplements or changes to your diet, turning to vitamin-D rich foods such as salmon, trout and mushrooms.
What color is full spectrum light?
The answer to the question of full spectrum light’s color is tricky. Full spectrum light covers the entire electromagnetic spectrum, and its color is dependent on many factors related to how and where the light is used, as well as whether the bulb is incandescent or florescent. Full spectrum incandescent lamps filter out some dominant “warm” colors whereas full spectrum fluorescent lighting appear “whiter” and closer to day light than typical fluorescent lamps. Bulbs.com notes that to the human eye, full spectrum lamps “would most commonly be recognized as midday sunlight in terms of its appearance.”
Some research shows that bulbs with a strong blue light wavelength are most effective. Blue light can also help you sleep better. Blue light from screens at night can suppress melatonin but research has shown that exposure to blue light during the day can improves alertness.
Is LED light full spectrum?
LEDs are energy-efficient alternatives to conventional incandescent light bulbs. An LED bulb offers many advantages over an incandescent bulb, including longer life (and therefore cost savings) and recyclability, and they no do not emit UV rays. Remember though that LED and incandescent refer to way in which a light bulb operates, not the type of light the bulb emits.
Is 5000k full spectrum light?
When discussing lighting, 5000k means 5000 Kelvin, the unit used to measure light color temperature. In general, 2700-3000K lights have a warm yellow color temperature, 5000K lights are white daylight temperature and lights between 5700K and 6500K have a cool or blue tone. Some lights measuring 5000k may be full spectrum, and this information will typically be included on manufacturer packaging.
Are SAD lights bad for your eyes?
Harvard University notes that a “good” light box includes a cover to filter ultraviolet rays and researchers recommend positioning the box at an angle, so that the bright light reaches your eyes indirectly. Never look directly at the light box, which can lead to eye damage.
Can you wear glasses during full spectrum light therapy?
There is no evidence that wearing prescription glasses or contact lenses during light therapy is harmful, although tinted lenses may reduce the effectiveness of the treatment.
Is red light therapy a hoax?
Red light therapy is unrelated to full spectrum light therapy used to treat SAD, but it is becoming an increasingly popular form of treatment among those looking to help skin, muscle tissue and other parts of your body heal. Red light therapy exposes you to low levels of red or near-infrared light emitted from a lamp, device or laser. The procedure is typically completed in a dermatology or dental office, but there are some at-home devices on the market. Research regarding the effectiveness of red light therapy is relatively new, but some studies suggest it could help regenerate collagen, elastin and fibroblasts.
Can full spectrum lights cause skin cancer?
According to the American Cancer Society, most skin cancers are caused by exposure to the UV rays in sunlight and some man-made forms of UV light. Full spectrum light therapy replicates early morning sunlight, which, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation, provides the lowest amount of UV radiation of the day. Consider investing in a light box with a cover that filters out the small number of UV rays your light may produce and avoid tanning beds and tanning lamps.