If this is your first Beating the Winter Blues blog post you can find the original post discussing the series here. And if you click here, you will have access to all the posts in the Beating the Winter Blues series. This includes (and will include) freezer meal prep, light therapy, Bach flower remedies and herbal remedies.
What is Light Therapy?
Light Therapy is a safe and natural treatment that involves exposing yourself to either daylight (which is not really possible in the winter months) or specific wavelengths of light from a light box/lamp. The light that comes from the light therapy box mimics natural sunlight found outdoors. It is recommended that the light box/lamp be used in the morning for the best results (afternoon is fine but always before 5pm to avoid insomnia). While it is not recommended that you stare directly at the light, do you do want your body/face to be oriented towards the light. I crochet while I use my light box. Others read, eat their morning meal or work on their computer.
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How Does it Work?
Sunlight is necessary for our brains to create serotonin. Serotonin is a mood regulating neurotransmitter, which when produced in adequate levels, helps to lift your mood and alleviate other symptoms of SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) such as fatigue, brain fog and low levels of motivation. Exposure to light also reduces our levels of melatonin (the hormone that helps us sleep) which is why light therapy is effective against the fatigue related symptoms of SAD/winter blues.
My First Light Therapy Experience
My light therapy lamp arrived in the mail yesterday evening, sadly too late for me to use it. I ordered my light therapy product from Costco and the link can be found here. If you don’t have a Costco membership you can also buy the product through Amazon.
After monkey man when down for his nap I finally got to use my lamp for the first time. While they do suggest morning use is optimal, it’s just not possible for me with a toddler to chase around. I opted to have the light on low (as they suggest for afternoon use) and I sat in front of it for about 45 minutes. It was definitely brighter than I anticipated and it did give me a slight headache (which I’ve read is not uncommon). I would love to say I had immediate results, but that is unrealistic (even for someone as impatient as me). All I can say is that I did have more energy in the afternoon than I usually do. I typically want to take a nap right when it’s time for my son to wake up and today I didn’t feel that way.
Overall Impression of Light Therapy
My first three sessions produced headaches. Nothing extremely severe, but they were bad enough that they affected me for the rest of the day. After a few weeks I began to feel a bit discouraged. That was until I skipped three sessions in a row (due to circumstances beyond my control). I couldn’t believe how down and depressed I felt! By day three I knew that the light therapy was truly helping my mood. Unfortunately I am back in that situation yet again due to the holiday season. This time I missed four days in a row. By the morning of day four I was depressed and crying at the breakfast table. It took a lot of coaxing to get me to sit in front of the light today (motivation is one of the first things to go when I’m depressed), but thanks to my husband I did. And I’m so glad I did! Went for a walk this afternoon with my family and even had enough energy and inclination to write this blog post.
I have now been using light therapy successfully for three winters and I will NOT turn back. I have thankfully and blessedly come out of my postpartum depression but I still struggle with seasonal depression and honestly I would not be without my lamp. The headaches were very temporary and I have not experienced once in years. I was worried that taking the summer off from light therapy that I would experience them again once I started up in late fall but this was not the case thankfully.
Pros of Light Therapy
- The light therapy box is small and easy to use (this is the exact light I purchased). From what understand older light therapy boxes are larger and more cumbersome. This particular light can be mounted to a wall as well. Due to its small size I have used it while preparing a meal in my kitchen as it doesn’t take up much counter space!
- It works. At least it seems to be for me. As mentioned above, I seem to notice the effects more when I miss my sessions rather than when I’ve completed them.
- Flexibility. You are able to complete your light therapy sessions anytime before 5pm give you lots of time during the day to sit in from of your light. Using light therapy late in the day can contribute and/or cause insomnia.
- You can do other things (watch tv, work on the computer, read the newspaper etc) while you are in the middle of a session.
Cons of Light Therapy
Headaches! I had to scratch that one out because after the initial week I have not experienced anymore headaches. However for completeness sake I will list it as headaches may still occur.
- Being tied to the lamp. Unfortunately in order to get the full benefit of the light you really need to be sitting in front of it (slightly off centre is best). The manufacturer suggests being anywhere from 6-24 inches from the light. You shouldn’t stare into it, but the light does need to enter your eyes. Because of this, you can’t really just have the light on while you putter around your house. This passive exposure is unlikely to be enough to battle depression or SAD.
- The light is bright. Because the light needs to enter your eye to be effective you cannot wear sunglasses. However the lamp I have does have a comfort setting (lower light) which helps a lot.
- This particular con is most likely only related to me. Because I have a toddler (and one with an eye condition to boot) I can only do my light therapy sessions during my son’s naps (which isn’t always the most convenient time). I don’t want to risk him looking into the light when he’s awake (due to his eye condition) and there is no way that he would give me an entire 30-45 minutes to sit in front of a light!
Thanks for reading! Sending happy and sunny thoughts your way.
P.S. Please pin for future reference and to share the light therapy love 😉