How to Use A Light Box for Depression

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Light box therapy is generally a safe treatment used to treat depression, seasonal affective disorder and other conditions that may worsen due to the lack of sunlight exposure during the fall and winter months. The therapy involves sitting near a light therapy box that emits bright light designed to mimic sunlight. Researchers theorize that the light affects production and release of the neurotransmitters, which are responsible for regulating mood.

Getting Started

Physicians typically recommend getting approval from a health care provider before starting treatment. Care must be taken to ensure that the light therapy does not exacerbate certain conditions. Patients diagnosed as having bipolar disorder for example, can experience manic episodes after light exposure. Light therapy boxes are readily available through Internet retailers, pharmacies and certain hardware outlets. Consult with a physician to determine what type of device best suits your needs. Your individual symptoms will also determine the timing and duration of treatments.

Some people benefit from treatment on cloudy days. People living in areas deprived of sunlight may need to continue treatment year round. Patients suffering from depression from fall through winter often notice that symptoms increase due to temperature changes and the dreariness that is common during that time of year.

Light Therapy Sessions

During a treatment session, you may sit or work within close proximity to the light box. However, getting the best results requires sitting close enough so that the light shines directly into your eyes. Find something to occupy your time and avoid looking directly at the light, which can cause damage to delicate tissues. Follow your physician's directions and the manufacturer's instructions.

Elements for Effectiveness

People receive the most benefit when using the therapy for the right amount of time, during the appropriate time of day or year and with the correct light intensity. When initially starting treatment, your physician may recommend exposing yourself to the light for approximately 15 minutes. The duration of exposure typically lengthens with time. After becoming accustomed to the treatments, sessions may extend anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours. For most people, therapy should begin first thing in the morning upon awakening.

Light boxes emit light at different intensities that are rated at lux. This number indicates the amount of light produced at a specific distance. Boxes produce between 2,500 to 10,000 lux. Keep in mind that a light box rated at 2,500 lux may require longer sessions compared to a device emitting 10,000 lux.

Consistency is Key

For light boxes to be effective in diminishing depression symptoms, individuals must commit to the treatment. Treatment session should be consistent for the time recommended. However, resist the urge to extend your sessions beyond recommended guidelines. Place the box in a convenient location where you may comfortably read, use a computer, watch TV or engage in other activities.

Cite this page: N., Sam M.S., "How to Use A Light Box for Depression," in, February 21, 2016, (accessed August 16, 2022).