3 New Light Therapies For People With SAD

by Natalia Lusinski

Daylight Savings not only gives us more hours of sunlight to enjoy, but also helps those with SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder). People with it have depression centered around the seasons and are particularly bummed out in the spring and early summer, with symptoms starting in the fall and winter. Signs include moodiness, less energy, problems concentrating, feeling worthless, and trouble sleeping. Doctors have found that people with SAD have high melatonin levels, low serotonin ones, and their circadian rhythms are off (which affects their energy levels, temperaments, etc.).

There are many remedies out there for SAD, from sleeping less to cutting down on caffeine and other coping mechanisms. Several doctors have weighed in, too, and determined that SAD sufferers do not have enough Vitamin D in their systems. Now, new indoor light therapies can help (often referred to as "light boxes")— and are reasonably priced — and you don't even have to step outside for sun! The American Psychiatric Association recommends this treatment method, too (sometimes coupled with medication). Even being treated with strong artificial light for just 15 minutes a day (and up to two hours) helps decrease and alleviate symptoms.

The lights contain ultraviolet light (be sure to check if the one you're getting is FDA approved or not!) and come in various degrees of intensities. These are referred to as "lux," "which is a measure of the amount of light you receive at a specific distance from a light source," says the Mayo Clinic.

For light therapy to be effective, the Mayo Clinic says there are three key elements: Duration (15 minutes to 2 hours, depending on lux intensity), Timing (usually first thing in the morning), and Intensity (2,500 lux to 10,000 lux). The lower the lux, the longer doctors recommend patients use the light box. The L.A. Times reported on the following light therapies (all of which received rave reviews on Amazon):

  1. SunTouch Plus by Nature Bright ($169); 10,000 lux, 15-minute increments for up to 60 minutes. "My desk lighted up like a Broadway production with a bluish ambience," said Elise Oberliesen of the L.A. Times.
  2. Lightphoria Energy Light Lamp ($70); 5,000 lux, 8,000 lux and 10,000 lux, and a timer that can be set for 15, 30 or 45 minutes. "The design--the light would easily fit in a suitcase--is ideal for frequent travelers," Oberliesen said.
  3. Light Box Daylight Simulator ($159); 7,000 and 10,000 lux. "The company suggests placing the lamp about 12 inches away," said Oberliesen.

Hopefully, you'll be feeling better in no time — whether you're getting real sun or getting in some lux.