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How Long Does It Take For Light Therapy To Work?

January 14, 2021 4 min read


How Long Does It Take For Light Therapy To Work?

Bright Light Therapy

If you suffer from seasonal affective disorder (SAD), insomnia, jet lag or other sleep disorders, certain types of depression, or have a loved one who suffers from Sundowners, you're one of the more likely people to be asking the question, how long does it take for light therapy to work? 

In this post we will discuss all the aspects of what's called bright light therapy, which incidentally, is the same as heliotherapy, phototherapy, or just plain light therapy. We'll also find out about light therapy lamps or light boxes, and what to look for when purchasing them. Let's get started! 

Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD

Are you one of the 3 million American people every year who is diagnosed with seasonal affective disorder, cleverly nicknamed SAD? Or do you, or someone you care about, start getting a bad case of winter blues starting around the fall and winter months, every year? People with SAD often become depressed when the days start getting shorter and there's less exposure to sunshine available. Studies show that this lack of natural sunlight disrupts our internal clocks. In addition, the lack of natural vitamin D production within our bodies that sunlight exposure triggers, make these two factors the believed cause of SAD. 

SAD is a form of depression sometimes called winter depression, that usually starts in the fall and winter months. When the days become shorter (with less sunshine) and your time outdoors becomes limited, symptoms increase, and they ease up during the spring and summer months.

SAD Symptoms

Symptoms of SAD can be debilitating for sufferers, and can include:
  • Fatigue or excessive sleeping 
  • Lack of energy or interest in engaging in formerly enjoyed activities 
  • Mood swings 
  • Insomnia 
  • Isolation and depression 
  • Overeating and especially craving sweet food and/or carbohydrates

Feeling Out Of Sync?

Get Your Rhythm Back!

The circadian rhythm is the natural internal process that resets our internal biological clocks approximately every 24 hours. If you notice feeling "out of sync", or have symptoms such as the ones listed above, many people are shown to be relieved significantly by resetting this personal internal clock. Exposure to natural sunlight normally triggers the area of the hypothalamus in the brain that controls the circadian rhythm, which resets these processes. 

The circadian rhythm is responsible primarily for our sleep-wake cycle, as well as many other behavioral changes and biological processes that our bodies go through in each 24 hour cycle. 

Light Therapy Lamps 

Also Known As Light Boxes 

It has been shown that certain types of artificial light exposure, the kind that mimics sunlight, can "trick" our body's circadian rhythm into resetting our internal clocks, restoring these processes to normal and alleviating the symptoms of SAD and other aforementioned problems. 

There are light therapy systems available to the general public in what is now commonly known as a light therapy lamp, also known as a light box. Using a light therapy system in the form of one of these light boxes is a safe and effective way to combat the symptoms of SAD. Even still, you should always consult your doctor or a health professional before adding any form of unsupervised treatment to your routine.

Artificial Light

The type of artificial lights needed for light therapy lamps or light boxes that mimic authentic sunlight the best, are full spectrum, 10 000 lux lights. A full spectrum light represents the color rendering index or CRI most like the sun, which is more of a white light, like the 10 000 lux or lumens illumination measurement. However, light boxes come in 2 500 lux to 10 000 lux options.

Also remember that uv light or ultraviolet light is dangerous, so look for a uv-free light box or therapy lamp. Although light intensity is very important, there are links between tanning lamps and skin cancer as well, so avoid using this type of light level, as well. 

How To Use Light Therapy Lamps

Read all of the information and instructions before using your light box, as every light box or therapy lamp is different, especially as far as the distance to sit from it. Typically, light therapy sessions are started at 30 minutes a day, then increased if necessary. You should do your therapy at the same time every day, about an hour after waking up in the morning, ideally between 6-9am is best. It should only take a few days to feel results from light therapy sessions, and no longer than two weeks. If you need to change your treatment process, only change one part in any two week period. Be sure to share with your doctor all the information on what you're doing, and ask his or her advice if necessary. 

Side Effects  

There are very few side effects that people have reported from using light therapy lamps or light boxes. However if you do experience any, they should be mild and should not last very long. The most common side effects are:
  • Eye strain or eye problems 
  • Mild nausea 
  • Feeling "wired" or agitated
  • Headaches 
  • Sweating 
Be sure to read the information in the manual of your light therapy lamp for details on how to use it. 

Warnings or Cautions 

Do not use these lights if you have a preexisting condition of macular degeneration. Patients who take medicines that warn against sun exposure or who are sensitive to light should talk to their doctors or pharmacists before starting light therapy treatment sessions. 

Experts from the American Psychiatric Association have advised patients with certain mental health issues such as bipolar disorder not to use light therapy lamps, or you may experience manic episodes.

Anyone who suffers from a mental health issue, such as any other form of depression or depressive disorder, should always consult with their psychiatrist or therapist before starting a new treatment like light box therapy. If you have symptoms that persist and do not let up after treatment, seek the advice of a health professional. Or check us out here at Sunrise Sensations to learn more!