Light boxes

Light boxes are often used to treat seasonal affective disorder (SAD), and many are designed for this specific purpose, but can also be used to mimic morning light and help regulate your melatonin secretion. You can buy them from internet retailers, drugstores and sometimes hardware stores.

Here are some things to consider in buying a light box:

If you are planning to use a light box, you should definitely consult with your physician, since this is actually a strong treatment that may affect your biology and emotions, especially if you have a history of depression. You also need to talk to your physician about drugs that you are taking: if any of these tend to make you light-sensitive, you should not use light therapy. The herb St. John’s wort, used for depression, can cause the skin to become oversensitive to light, so it should not be used with light therapy. Use of methotrexate, chloroquine or having the disease porphyria are also contraindications for light therapy.

Light boxes that are designed to treat SAD may be more effective in helping with your melatonin secretion because they are designed to affect the brain.

You should look for a light box that produces as little harmful ultraviolet (UV) light as possible or that shields you from UV light. UV light damages the skin and eyes. Ask the manufacturer of a box if you can’t determine this from the available information.

Look for a box that provides the right intensity of light when you are a comfortable distance away from it. For some boxes you must be positioned only a few inches away, and for others you can sit nearly two feet away. Determine what is going to be most practical for you.

Light should come from above your line of sight, not directly at it or below it. Determine whether you will be able to position your light box appropriately.

Some light boxes simulate dawn, turning on in the morning while you are asleep and gradually get brighter until you wake up. This may be most practical for you, and the most effective for circadian rhythm disturbances, but you should make sure you get a sufficient duration of light (some circadian rhythm disturbances need evening light exposure, specifically advanced sleep phase syndrome).

Some light boxes are in the style of upright lamps, and others are rectangular. There are also light visors, so that you could receive light while you are still active, but it is not known how effective these are.

Some light boxes give off blue light. This may be a problem for people with or at risk of macular degeneration.

Remember that light boxes are use to treat depression. If you have been suffering from an undetected depression, you may find this eases with light therapy. On the other hand, there are a number of cases of people who became somewhat manic after using light boxes – a stimulant effect somewhat like taking too many antidepressant pills. This might manifest as losing normal inhibitions, taking more risks than usual, reckless driving or other unusual behavior.

Some boxes are larger than others and may thus be less portable or less easy to fit into the space that you want to use them in. There are a number of other features on light boxes such as timers, stands, wall-mount options, which may be important to you, though they may add to the price.

Prices range from about $100 to $500. You can find websites that contain reviews of light therapy boxes and summarize the technical details of each.