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Lightening Up in Winter

Treating SAD

Light therapy, also known as phototherapy, is a treatment involving exposure to an artificial light source.

The therapy primarily treats major depressive disorder (MDD) with seasonal patterns (formerly known as seasonal affective disorder, or SAD).

This is a type of depression that occurs during a certain time of year, usually in the wintertime when there’s less daylight. Light can also be used to treat other conditions, including sleep disorders and other types of depression.


Light therapy compensates for the lack of exposure to sunlight that may contribute to major depressive disorder with seasonal patterns.

During a session, you sit near a light box, which emits bright light. The box or lamp usually mimics natural sunlight, but there can be variations between devices made by different manufacturers. SAD lamps simulate sunlight, which helps trigger the brain to release serotonin, often called the feel-good hormone. Studies show that using light therapy during periods when daylight hours are short can help adjust your circadian rhythm, the body’s process for regulating your sleep-wake cycle. This is beneficial for improving mood and reducing symptoms of depression.

Light therapy has become an accepted practice for alleviating SAD and other conditions such as jet lag, dementia and circadian rhythm sleep disorders.


I have a SAD lamp I use in session. Feel free to ask me more about it!


Ultraviolet (UV) light should be filtered out of SAD lamps, so they shouldn’t damage your eyes or skin. However, light boxes used to treat certain skin conditions do emit UV light, so you should be sure that your light box is designed to treat SAD.

  • SAD lamps are designed to mimic the sun, so they can help increase your vitamin D levels.

  • The recommended brightness for SAD lamps is typically 10,000 lux.

  • Typically, most people will start to respond to light therapy within 3 to 5 days.

Light therapy is generally safe. If side effects occur, they're usually mild and short lasting. They may include Eyestrain, Headache, Nausea, Irritability or agitation, Mania, euphoria, hyperactivity or agitation associated with bipolar disorder. When side effects do occur, they may go away on their own within a few days of starting light therapy. You also may be able to manage side effects by reducing treatment time, moving farther from your light box, taking breaks during long sessions or changing the time of day you use light therapy. Talk to your doctor for advice if side effects are a problem.


It's best to be under the care of a health professional while using light box therapy, especially if you have a condition that makes your skin especially sensitive to light, such as systemic lupus erythematosus, you take medications that increase your sensitivity to sunlight, such as certain antibiotics, anti-inflammatories or the herbal supplement St. John's Wort, or you have an eye condition that makes your eyes vulnerable to light damage. It is not recommended for use to treat Bipolar Depression.


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