Light has a powerful effect on the body’s “clock”. It can reset one’s circadian rhythm and help adjust sleep/wake times. Light can treat Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues), and even help low mood that is not tied to a particular season. Using light correctly can help many people sleep better at night. It can even help the elderly get better sleep and, in some cases, reduce confusion.
How to use a lightbox:
• Use the lightbox first thing in the morning (unless specifically directed otherwise by your sleep medicine provider). The alerting and mood enhancing effects of light are most powerful when first awake.
• The light must be directly on your eyes and your eyes must be open.
• Lightboxes should be positioned 12-24 inches from your face and at an angle (see illustration) to avoid glare.
• Ideally, the light should be positioned somewhat above the height of your eyes, so the light is shining downward (as the sun would).
• Do not stare at the light. However, glancing at the light source for a few seconds at a time is not harmful.
• Typical usage time is from 15-60 minutes a day.
• Lightboxes may be used while eating, reading, using a computer or TV, applying makeup or any other sedentary activity.
• Do not use a light box if you have had laser eye surgery in the last 30 days, or have macular degeneration.
• Use with caution if you have cataracts, glaucoma or are photosensitive (very sensitive to light). Certain medications, especially antibiotics, may cause photosensitivity. Check with your pharmacist if you are unsure whether your medications can cause photosensitivity.
• If you have any concerns about light exposure, contact your ophthalmologist or health care provider (these lights do NOT produce UV light, so will not “burn” skin or eyes).
• Occasionally, there are mild side effects such as headaches, “stinging” in the eyes, or, on rare occasions, nausea. These effects generally disappear within a few days.
• Rarely, persons with bipolar disorder may experience hypomania or mania, or an increasing agitation. If this very rare side effect occurs, simply discontinue use.
HOW TO OBTAIN A LIGHTBOX
We recommend a light box that delivers a “prescription strength” level of light. That generally means a box with 5,000 – 10,000 lux. Boxes may have white light or blue light. Those that have blue light only do not need as high a lux rating. Some boxes are very small. They also come in the form or floor lamps and even a visor (with a light source under the bill.
There are several websites you can check. Some are:
One product, Morning Sunrise SRS320 is both a 10,000 lux light box and a dawn simulator. Awakening to bright light can be very effective to treat seasonal affective disorder and maintain circadian rhythms. Its cost is comparable to the boxes above and can be ordered on several of the websites.