Light therapy (A complete guide)

What is light therapy?

Light therapy, also known as phototherapy, is a treatment method where you’re exposed to an artificial light source.

The treatment essentially treats significant feelings of depression, anxiety or seasonal affective disorder.

This type of depression usually happens during the colder months and throughout the winter season.

Light therapy is used to treat different conditions, including significant life changes.

How it works

Commonly, light treatment is intended to make up for the absence of daylight, which is often connected to seasonal depression.

This may involve sitting inside a room that transmits light that imitates normal daylight.

Specific doses of light will transmit themselves in units known as a lux. A lux will measure the amount of light utilized in a treatment.

The standard yield of a light therapy treatment is somewhere in the range of 2,500 and 10,000 lux. 

Treatments for the most part start in the fall and proceed until late-winter. Each session of light therapy will generally last from 10 to 15 minutes.

The length of the session will depend upon how well you tolerate light therapy as well as the quality of the light room.

Another way to be treated with light therapy could also be to administer therapy in shorter sessions.

The stronger the intensity of the light room, the shorter the treatment will be in duration. 

Why light treatment is so powerful is still being researched.

One theory suggests that light normally triggers the production of serotonin in the brain.

Serotonin is the chemical in the brain that produces feelings of happiness. 

Side Effects 

There are certain side effects that can occur from exposure to light treatment, including migraines and sunburns.

For the most part, these symptoms are not severe. Most of the symptoms that individuals experience from undergoing light therapy can be managed by modifying the dose of light therapy that an individual receives.

Different treatment options for these symptoms include eye drops, nasal spray and applying sunscreen.

If you’re considering undergoing light therapy, be sure that you speak with your doctor first beforehand to make sure that it’s safe to proceed.

Individuals with sensitive skin, eye conditions, or a history of skin cancer may be at too great of a risk to receive light therapy treatments. 

Risks

Light therapy is generally safe. If side effects occur, they’re usually mild and short lasting.

They may include eye strain, headaches, nausea, irritability, agitation, mania, euphoria, hyperactivity or agitation associated with bipolar disorder.

Holding light therapy treatments for a few days will likely ease a lot of these side effects.

You can also take breaks during long light therapy sessions or move farther away from the light box.

You should talk to your doctor for advice if side effects are a problem.

Treatment

During light treatment sessions, you sit near and work with a light box.

In order for the box to be viable, light from the light box must enter your eyes in a roundabout way.

You won’t be able to get the same impact just by presenting your skin to the light.

While your eyes must be open, don’t look directly at the light box, because direct exposure to such powerful light may harm your eyesight.

Make certain to follow your doctor’s suggestions and the instructions of the individual administering light therapy.

Light treatment requires time and consistency. You can set your light box or lamp on a table or work area in your home or office.

That way you can do work, use your computer, write things down, sit in front of the TV, chat on the telephone or eat while having a light treatment.

Be sure that you adhere to your treatment plan in order to receive the best results possible.

Viability 

Light treatment is best when you have the best possible mix of light force, length of treatment and time.

The force of the light box is recorded in lux, which is a proportion of the measure of light you get.

For SAD, the suggestion is to utilize a 10,000-lux light box and position it at or around 16 to 24 inches (41 to 61 centimeters) from your face.

With a 10,000-lux light box, light treatment regularly includes every day sessions of around 20 to 30 minutes.

However, a lower-force light box, for example, 2,500 lux, may require longer therapy sessions. Check the manufacturer’s rules and adhere to your primary care physician’s guidelines.

The person who prescribes light therapy may propose you start with shorter sessions and steadily increase the length of time that you’re in these sessions.

For many people, light treatment is best when it starts at the beginning of the day, after you first wake up.

Your PCP can assist you with deciding the light treatment plan that works best for you.

Results 

Light treatment most likely won’t fully fixing the anxiety, depression or seasonal affective disorder that you’re feeling.

However, light therapy will significantly ease the pain of the side effects that are often associated with those conditions.

Incrementally, you might start to see an increase in your energy levels and assist you with getting a more restful night’s sleep.

Light therapy will likely help start you down a path of improving the quality of your life in a short period of time.

Light therapy benefits can be shown in subjects who receive treatments in as little as a few days.

At its longest, light therapy may take up to fourteen days before individuals start to show signs of progress.

Taking advantage of light treatment 

Light therapy isn’t successful for everybody.

With this in mind, you can still find a way to capitalize on your light therapy treatments and still see some benefits. Be sure that you get the correct light box.

Do some research on light boxes and discuss them with your doctor first about which ones have different intensities, the correct dose of light and the style that will work best for your needs. 

Additionally, be sure that you’re being consistent when you plan out your treatment schedule.

Adhere to a day by day schedule of light therapy sessions to help you guarantee that you keep seeing improvements in your mood after some time.

In the event that you can’t do light treatment consistently, take a day or two off, yet still observe how you’re feeling and what symptoms you’re experiencing.

It might be beneficial to figure out a way to incorporate light therapy on a more consistent basis.

Tracking your light therapy sessions can be extremely helpful.

In the event that you interrupt your light therapy sessions throughout the winter months or stop too early in the spring when you’re improving, your symptoms could return.

Monitor when you start your light box therapy sessions in the fall and when you stop in the spring so you realize when to begin and end your light treatment during the next year. 

Another thing to consider is incorporating other forms of treatment.

In the event that your symptoms don’t improve with continued light therapy treatments, you may require additional treatment methods.

Consider talking to your primary care physician about other treatment alternatives, for example, antidepressants or psychotherapy.

Light therapy is just one of many options that can help ease symptoms of conditions that make daily light difficult. 

Side Note: I have tried and tested various products and services to help with my anxiety and depression. See my top recommendations here, as well as a full list of all products and services our team has tested for various mental health conditions and general wellness.

FAQs on Light Therapy:

Does light therapy increase my vitamin D levels?

Light therapy lamps do not emit UVB rays, which help with the production of vitamin D.

Light that is emitted from light boxes are only used to help manage symptoms that are associated with anxiety, depression and/or seasonal affective disorder (SAD). 

Will light therapy help improve my skincare routine?

Light therapy boxes are not intended to be used for skincare regimens.

The emotional benefits of light therapy extend only to your psychological well being.

While light therapy may help you feel better physically, it will not have an impact on your skin.

Can I use a regular lightbulb for light therapy?

No, a regular light bulb cannot be used for light therapy.

A light box or lamp specifically intended for light therapy purposes is the only type of device that can be used for light therapy.

Interested in Learning More? Check out these books on Light Therapy:

  • Light Therapies: A Complete Guide to the Healing Power of Light
  • Light: Medicine of the Future: How We Can Use It to Heal Ourselves NOW
  • Light and Laser Therapy: Clinical Procedures 6th Edition

What we recommend for depression

Professional counselling

If you are suffering from depression then ongoing professional counselling may be your ideal first point of call. Counselling will utilize theories such as Cognitive behavioural therapy which will help you live a more fulfilling life.

References

https://www.healthline.com/health/depression/light-therapy#method

https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/light-therapy/about/pac-20384604

https://www.fullspectrumsolutions.com/pages/light-therapy-faqs

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