Light Therapy: What is it and how does it work?

Light therapy is a method of treating certain conditions by exposure to artificial light. It is also known as bright light therapy or phototherapy and has proven to have some mood-enhancing benefits. Light therapy positively impacts brain chemicals that are linked to mood.

No matter what seasonal condition you might have, light therapy does improve mood. You will start to notice changes within a few days, making it highly beneficial.

Say goodbye to the winter blues! Remember those mood benefits you get when you are outside during the summer season? You can now enjoy those benefits by the use of a light therapy box.


How it works

Light therapy aims to compensate for a lack of exposure to natural sunlight, which can be related to seasonal conditions. During light therapy, you sit near a device commonly known as a light therapy box.

Light therapy boxes give off a bright light that mimics natural light. Brighter boxes require less time to use every day, while dimmer boxes need to be used several times throughout the day to achieve the same effect. Each light therapy box comes with a unit of measurement called lux, which gauges the strength of the light it emits.

The recommended light intensity for a light box is between 2,500 and 10,000 lux, but your needs may change based on your recommended exposure. A daily therapy session typically lasts around 30 minutes. The time may vary depending on the strength of the lightbox and how well you handle the exposure.

Light therapy is believed to trigger the production of serotonin, a brain chemical that can make people feel better. However, it's important to note that light therapy won't cure Seasonal Affective Disorder, nonseasonal depression, or other conditions. Its main goal is to increase your energy levels, reduce the effects of symptoms, and stabilize your mood.

Energy

Begin your day feeling focused and productive.

Mood

Shine with positivity while keeping the blues at bay.

Sleep

Reset your body's internal clock and get better zzz's.


Side effects of light therapy

The most common side effects of light therapy include:

  • Headaches
  • Eyestrain or dry eyes
  • Insomnia
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea
  • Hypomania, an extended period of heightened mood
  • Sweating

Before conducting light therapy, consult a doctor, especially if you suffer from eye problems or headaches on a regular basis.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Non-invasive and safe
  • Convenient (can be done at home)
  • Mild, with few side effects (if any)
  • Can be used to affect a variety of seasonal conditions and mood changes
  • It may help regulate natural circadian rhythm, which will fight fatigue and restlessness

Cons

The cons or disadvantages of light therapy are associated with the side effects mentioned above. However, the effects may not be experienced by everyone.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about light therapy

How many minutes should I use light therapy?

It is recommended to start with 20 minutes, 3-5 times per week for the first month. Then 2-3 times for the next 2 months and later 1-2 times a week.

What is the best light for bright light therapy?

Bright white light therapy has proven to be effective for many conditions. The most common conditions, like mood disorders, require bright light, which is stronger than a normal lamp or other light fixtures in your house. It is created by a special type of light emitted from a lamp called a light box.

The most common light box contains fluorescent lights, which are mounted on a metal reflector. It also has a plastic screen that aids in filtering out ultraviolet frequencies, which can damage the eyes. This screen also diffuses the light emitted, preventing glare.

The important thing about a great light source is the intensity of the light—not the spectrum of the light.

Is light therapy good for anxiety?

Bright white light therapy has proven to be effective for many conditions. The most common conditions, like mood disorders, require bright light, which is stronger than a normal lamp or other light fixtures in your house. It is created by a special type of light emitted from a lamp called a light box.

The most common light box contains fluorescent lights, which are mounted on a metal reflector. It also has a plastic screen that aids in filtering out ultraviolet frequencies, which can damage the eyes. This screen also diffuses the light emitted, preventing glare.

The important thing about a great light source is the intensity of the light—not the spectrum of the light.

Which is the best light box for Light Therapy?

You can find many light therapy boxes on the market today, but only a few have the right features. The best box should:

  • Emit little to no UV light.
  • Have a measurement of 10,000 lux, which is higher than most artificial lights.
  • Come with a big panel that will allow you to put the light farther away while using it. (A smaller box will be difficult to set up at your eye level and needs to be closer to your face. This can cause damage to the skin and eyes, and you may need to spend more time in front of it compared to a larger box.)
  • Have adjustable brightness. (While not required, it is a nice-to-have feature, so you can adjust the intensity to your preference as needed.)
  • Provide good value for its cost. (A good lamp won't be too expensive or too cheap. If it is too cheap, it may lack certain features; if it's too expensive, it may be needlessly overpriced.)

Some of the best light boxes on the market today include the following:

  • Verilux HappyLight Luxe VT43 (4 brightness options, 3 color temperature options, and a 1-hour timer with 5-minute intervals)
  • Circadian Optics Lumos (3 brightness options and an adjustable stand)
  • Verilux HappyLight Lumi VT31 (3 brightness options)

Do your own research and check out reviews or recommendations to find the best solution for your needs.

How long does light therapy take to actually work?

Most people will respond to therapy within 3 to 5 days. If you don't respond within the first week, you might need to adjust the duration of the therapy session or the intensity of the light. By doing so, you should notice an improvement in the second week. If this doesn't happen, consult your doctor.

Sources

1. The efficacy of light therapy in the treatment of mood disorders

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15800134/

2. Light therapy for winter depression

https://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletter_article/Light_therapy_for_winter_depression

3. Light Therapy in Mood Disorders

https://www.chronobiologyinmedicine.org/journal/view.php?number=5