How to Use Bright Lights to Bust the Winter Blahs
This time of year, it's hard not to feel the winter blues. But do those light therapy boxes really work?
This time of year, it's hard not toÂ feelÂ the winter blues.Â The shorter days and limitedÂ sunlightÂ leave many of usÂ with seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a type of depressionÂ that hits during the winter months.
Luckily, there are a fewÂ therapies that can successfully treat SADâ€”most notably cognitive behavior therapy (CBT)Â and light therapy. CBT, which is a form of talk therapy, teachesÂ people to changeÂ the negative thoughtÂ patterns and action ("It's too cold to go out tonight") that canÂ lead to seasonalÂ depression.
Light therapy, on the other hand, uses super-bright,Â full spectrum light to counteract the mood-dampening effects of short days.Â Sitting in front of a light therapy box may alter brain chemicals and helpÂ correct the body's internal clock, which getsÂ thrown off balance with the change in season.
"It works because it's fooling your system in a positive way," saidÂ Ben Michaelis, PhD, clinical psychologist and author of Your Next Big Thing: 10 Small Steps to Get Moving and Get HappyÂ ($12.95, Amazon.com).Â "It modifies the amount of light you're exposed to, which affects the levels of serotonin and melatonin in your body."
Interestingly, new depression research suggests that light therapy may evenÂ help people withÂ major depressive disorder. The study, out of Canada, found that 60% of patients on aÂ combination therapy of an antidepressant plus light therapy went into remission, as didÂ 40% of patients treated with light therapy alone.
Dr. Michaelis advises sitting in front of aÂ light boxÂ for 30 minutes each day (just check in with your doctor first). Many people find that light therapy works best when theyÂ do it within anÂ hour of waking up, but others haveÂ successÂ using the deviceÂ in the middle of the day or even the evening.
Side effects aren'tÂ common, but may includeÂ headaches, nausea, or eyestrain. Cutting back on light therapy timeÂ should alleviate these symptoms, Dr. Michaelis says.
If you haveÂ bipolar disorderÂ or the condition runs in your family, steer clear unlessÂ youÂ get a green light from yourÂ doctor. "Some get an agitated mania after extensive exposure to bright light therapy," Dr. Michaelis explains.
When shopping, lookÂ for a modelÂ that emits no less than 10,000 LUX (which is the highest recommended output) with the least UV output, Dr. Michaelis advises. Most light boxes use a screen to filter out the UV rays,Â making it safer for your skin and eyes.Â Also stick with a device designedÂ for the treatment of SADÂ (there are light therapies for other conditions, such asÂ phototherapy for skin problems,Â but they won't help your mood).
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Need someÂ suggestions? TheseÂ are three light boxes with 10,000 LUX and a low-to-no UV ray output. Each comes with a recommended seating distance based on its size and light output.
Verilux HappyLight Liberty 10K ($100; amazon.com)
A top-rated light box, the Verilux HappyLight LibertyÂ features an intensity control and a tilt design, letting you adjust the direction of the light. Most importantly, the Liberty emits no UV rays, so you can feel good about using it.
Aura Light Therapy LampÂ ($80; amazon.com)
Our cheapest pick, this pickÂ is a few inches shorter than the Verilux lampÂ and is alsoÂ UV-free. The only downside? It isn'tÂ adjustable.
Carex Day-Light Classic ($200; amazon.com)
This gizmoÂ is great if you have some spaceâ€”it is over 30 inches tallâ€”and want a box thatÂ can tilt and swivel. It shields you from 99.3% of UV rays.