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

Say goodbye to the winter blues with light therapy —a method of treating certain health conditions through the exposure to artificial light. Also known as bright light therapy or phototherapy, it aims to reset your circadian rhythm.

Bright light products have proven to be effective in the supplementary treatment of the winter blues, darkness related sadness, and even jet lag.

No matter what condition you have, exposure to the recommended LUX can have a positive impact on your mood, energy, and concentration.


How it works

Light therapy works by stimulating cells in the retina that connect to the hypothalamus (part of the brain that controls your circadian rhythm). In this way, it compensates for a lack of exposure to natural sunlight, which is a common problem in the winter months and other periods of darkness.

During light therapy, you sit near a device commonly known as a light box. The recommended light intensity for a light box is between 2,500 and 10,000 LUX, with a typical session lasting around 30 minutes. But the amount of light, brightness, and time of exposure may vary based on the recommendation from your doctor.

Light therapy may 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 (sad), major depressive disorder, nonseasonal depression, or other conditions.

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 related to light therapy use include:

  • Mild headaches
  • Hypomania*
  • Insomnia
  • Eyestrain
  • Sweating
  • Dry eyes
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea

It is important not to use light therapy every day or for longer than 1 hour. Before using light therapy products, we recommend that you consult a doctor, especially if you regularly suffer from eye problems or headaches.

Pros and Cons

When choosing a therapy lamp, it’s important to understand the pros and cons related to using the product. Below we’ve outlined some key points to consider when comparing different light therapy boxes or lamps:

Pros

  • Flexible enough to aid countless symptoms
  • Non-invasive and safer than direct sunlight
  • Lightweight and portable for anywhere use
  • Convenient and stylish for use at home
  • Energy, mood, and focus boosting
  • Sleep regulating and anti-fatigue
  • Won't harm your skin or eyes
  • Mild, if any, side effects
  • Free from UV radiation
  • Brightens any dark day

Cons

  • The cons or disadvantages of light therapy are associated with the side effects mentioned above. However, the effects may vary from one person to another.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about light therapy

How many minutes should I use light therapy for?

We recommend new light therapy users start with 20-minute sessions, 3-5 times per week for the first month. Then 2-3 times per week for the second and third months and then 1-2 times a week after that. For specific health information regarding your treatment, please contact your doctor.

What is the best light for bright light therapy?

Bright white light therapy has proven to be the most effective for supporting many health conditions. The most common conditions, like the winter blues, require bright light, which is stronger than the light found in a traditional lamp or household light fixture.

The important thing about a great light source is the strength of the light—not the spectrum of the light. Depending on your end goal between 2,500 and 10,000 LUX of light will be beneficial.

Which is the best light box for Light Therapy?

You can find many therapy light products on the market today, but only a few have the right features. That's why we've narrowed down the information for you. The best light boxes or lamps should:

  • Include a panel that’s large enough to emit light from a distance
  • Provide lower intensity settings for maximum adjustability
  • Emit little to no UV light, which can be harmful
  • Have 10,000 LUX of full spectrum brightness
  • Provide a good value for the cost  

Still not sure which lamp to get? We’ve featured some of the best Circadian Optics product offerings for you!

  • Best overall: The Lumos Lamp (3 settings and an adjustable stand)
  • Get the boost you need any time and any day with adjustable brightness.
  • Best for travel: The Luxy Lamp (2-in-1 portable stand and cover) Stay content at the airport or use it when you land to help curb jet lag.
  • Most stylish: The Lattis Lamp (Matte black, prairie style design) Treat yourself to light treatment that doubles as home decor.
  • Widest light: The Lampu Lamp (5500K, full spectrum light) Reset your sleep and keep sadness at bay with ultimate brightness.

 

Will therapy lamps cure SAD, depression, or sleep disorders ?

Although we have seen some success in supporting the symptoms associated with the winter blues, we are not doctors and cannot speak to the impact of light therapy lamps on SAD, depression, or sleep disorders. While consistent use may help some people, we urge those with more serious conditions to seek complementary treatment help from their primary health provider.

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.

*An extended time period of increased spirit

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