What is it about sunny days that people enjoy so much? It’s that the energy from the sun wakens the body and makes it feel alive. When you have Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), the lack of sunlight makes getting out of bed difficult. That’s why light boxes make you feel better during winter.
SAD, a form of depression, can adversely affect every area of a sufferer’s life. They may not be able to wake themselves from their desire to sleep in order to get to work in the morning. Their personal relationships may also suffer because the person simply wants to be left alone; they withdraw and seek solace in sugar-laden foods and the television.
As early as the 1980s when SAD was first established as a real disorder, doctors recognized the importance of sunlight in helping people feel better. Unfortunately, during the fall and winter months the days are shorter, thus there is less sunlight. Some doctors developed light therapy, or phototherapy, to simulate having more sunlight each day.
Some physicians believe light therapy can improve the symptoms of SAD in up to 65 percent of patients having this disorder. In fact, those using light therapy reported having more normal appetites, losing weight, and returning to a normal sleep pattern. Although the light treatment is effective in people with SAD, they are still conducting studies to see how much this therapy can help people with more severe forms of depression.
Doctors recommending the use of light therapy suggest a minimum of 30 minutes a day of treatment. There are several types of light boxes or devices available. However, they can be rather pricey with costs ranging from $150 to $350 or more. These costs may or may not be covered by health insurance; you’ll want to talk with your health provider to determine their payment policy for this treatment.
Fluorescent light boxes have light bulbs giving off 10,000 lux (standard light measurement) which is recommended. You may find a box with fewer luxes, but you’ll require longer exposure to get the same effects.
Dawn simulators are another type of light box. It is run on a timer so it will come on and get brighter as your time to rise nears. These devices offer a more natural way to increase light in your day, don’t have to be used a specific amount of time, and are automatic. Some researchers don’t feel they’re as effective as the 10,000 lux light boxes, however.
Remember, even if you do use a light box, to try to make it outside each day to get as much natural sunlight as possible. Knowing why light boxes make you feel better during months is important to helping you deal with SAD, but it’s also important to spend time outdoors in nature’s healing sunshine.