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sad lightIt’s November, cold and foggy outside, and I have been working at my desk since 6am with 10,000 lux shining into my face from a light box two feet away. This is my light therapy. I bought the light box (this one, as it happens, pictured right) after reading The Depression Cure.

Does it help with my depression? Possibly – but I am trying so many other things at the same time that it is difficult to tell.

Light boxes are marketed for people with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), but a growing body of research suggests light therapy helps ‘normal’ depression too. (See for example Even C, Schröder CM, Friedman S, Rouillon F. Efficacy of light therapy in nonseasonal depression: a systematic review. Journal of Affective Disorders 2008;108:11-23)

The Center for Environmental Therapeutics (CET) researches and promotes “natural, proven ways to improve your mood, sleep, and energy”. It says:

center-for-environmental-therapeutics-logoGiven the success and rapid spread of light therapy for SAD, clinical researchers immediately wondered how far the simple technology could be applied. Multiple studies—although performed on a smaller scale than for SAD—covered a wide canvas, almost all with encouraging results.

Light therapy also worked for nonseasonal depression, even unremitting chronic depression that didn’t lift for years. It worked for mothers who became depressed during pregnancy, offering the promise of a reprieve from potentially dangerous drug therapy. Patients with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, whether or not they were depressed, showed improvement in cognitive performance, along with a shift earlier in their circadian rhythms. Elderly, institutionalized patients showed mood improvement, and a slowing of cognitive decline.

(source: CET Later Demonstrations of Light Therapy for Psychiatric Disorders)

The excellent PsychEducation.org site has an accessible round-up of the evidence on light therapy for depression here. In reviewing recent studies, site author Jim Phelps concludes:

Light therapy is as good as the standard antidepressant approach. With fewer side effects and much less overall risk (not zero risk, but less).

If you decide to get a light box, have a look on PsychEducation.org and CET for guidance but as far as I can tell it needs to be 10,000 lux minimum and fairly big. 30 minutes in the morning should do the trick, with the light hitting your eyeballs from above. CET has an online ‘morningness-eveningness’ questionnaire for determining when you need the light (6.15am in my case). This is based on an estimation of when your body produces melatonin, a hormone that regulates the body clock’s day-night cycle.

Take it away fellas..

light therapy

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