With winter sometimes comes feelings of lethargy, cravings for carbohydrate foods and a desire to sleep — maybe until spring arrives! But there are other ways to walk through this season and if a person is experiencing Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), there is a well-researched form of therapy that can help to lift the mood and stabilize energy through these darker months of the year: Bright Light Therapy.
Researchers theorize that SAD is caused in part by lack of exposure to daylight. Bright Light Therapy mimics the brightness of being outdoors on a sunny day and helps to fill the gap during the darker days of the year. Exposure to bright light through the eyes causes the brain to make serotonin, a chemical that regulates aspects of mood, appetite, sleep and many other functions. Bright Light Therapy has been studied in mental health disorders ranging from depression, to eating disorders, ADHD and circadian rhythm disorders with documented effectiveness.
So how to utilize bright light therapy? Based on current research, here are a few recommendations:
Find a therapy light that emits 10,000 lux of light. Lux is a measure of light intensity, and 10,000 is the brightness shown to have therapeutic effect.
Make sure your therapy light filters out 99% of UV light. Remember we are not looking to get a suntan here (or damage our eyes!), but just looking for strong intensity of light.
Use your therapy light for half an hour, within an hour or so of waking up. Do not use it later in the day, as this can affect your ability to get to sleep that night.
Sit in front of the lamp, within a foot or two of the light itself. Direct your face toward the lamp without staring into the light. You could do other things while sitting in front of the light, like eat breakfast, drink coffee or read or watch something.
Use your light from about mid-October until early or mid-March, adjusting to meet your own needs. Remember December 21st is the darkest day of the year … so the recommendation is to utilize the light for about two months before and after that time.
Finally, consult a mental health professional, therapist or psychiatrist to discuss your unique needs and whether this treatment is right for you.
Amanda Jacobson, LMHC, Amanda is a licensed therapist in clinical practice since 2013. She has experience working in both inpatient and outpatient settings, with group and individual therapy and she has a passion for working with people recovering from addictions, as well as codependency, depression, anxiety, trauma, relationship challenges and major life transitions. She earned her master’s degree from Boston University.
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