The New York Times ran a great article yesterday on how using light therapy can help combat everything from mild winter blues to serious seasonal affective disorder. And according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, between 50% and 80% of people using light therapy to treat S.A.D. experience a complete recovery from symptoms. But how do you find a light therapy box? How much do they cost? And what features should you look for?
Turns out, light therapy boxes are less expensive than you might think—the cheapest models start around $40, though they can go up to a couple of hundred dollars. There are ample light therapy boxes for sale on Amazon.com. You can also find them online or in-store from places such as CVS, Walgreens and Drugstore.com (not to mention a slew of online-only retailers).
When weighing your light therapy box options, the most important things to consider are:
Light Intensity: For light therapy boxes, 10,000 lux (a measurement of light intensity) is pretty standard. Using a 10,000 lux light for 30 minutes each day produces the same effects as using a 2,500 lux light for two or more hours. Most light therapy boxes are designed to be used for about 30 minutes each morning.
Type of Light: Most light therapy boxes use white light, but some use blue. According to the Mayo Clinic, some research has shown blue light may be slightly more effective at treating depression, but blue light may also have a slightly higher chance of harming your eyes. And boxes that use LED lights are more efficient (and lighter) than those using standard florescent or incandescent lights.
Amount Of UV Light: Unlike tanning beds, light boxes for SAD are designed to filter out most ultraviolet light, which can cause skin and eye damage. You want to find a light box that emits as little UV light as possible at the highest intensity. Look for a light therapy box specifically designed to treat depression—some are designed to treat skin disorders, not depression, and these boxes tend to emit more UV light.
According to NAMI, side effects from light therapy are uncommon (some patients do report eyestrain, headaches or nausea), and there’s no evidence of long-term adverse effects. People with bipolar disorder who aren’t on mood-stabilizers are at risk for switching into mania or hypomania under light therapy. Otherwise, there’s no real reason not to just go ahead and try light therapy out if you think it might work for you—seasonally, or otherwise.
The American Psychiatric Association considers light therapy an effective low-risk treatment for both S.A.D. and nonseasonal depression. One 2006 study comparing light therapy to Prozac found the two treatments equally effective at alleviating winter depression—with light therapy working faster and producing fewer side effects.