The Low Down on Light Therapy

Do you get the winter Blues?  Perhaps you have been officially  diagnosed with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).  Light Therapy can help! In fact, it can help with more than just SAD.  Light Therapy can improve symptoms in Binge Eating Disorder, Insomnia, ADHD, Depression, PTSD, and Dementia.

The circadian rhythm refers to the biological process that occurs inside of us over a 24 hour period.  Sleep, hunger, and energy are controlled by the circadian rhythm.   The hypothalamus, a part of our brain, is the motherboard controlling the circadian rhythm.  It is highly reactive to light/dark shifts. It also produces Melatonin which makes us sleepy.  Light box use very early in the morning can reset the rhyme and help us get to bed earlier.  Use at other times of the day can help with mood, ADHD, and other issues. 

This is a woman using light therapy.  You can use the lamp while working in the morning.

Seasonal Affective Disorder

Light Box therapy is the gold standard for SAD.  Over 30 studies confirm its success. How do you know if you have SAD?  If your mood markedly declines in the fall, sometimes progressing into winter and then you feel more like yourself come spring.  SAD symptoms are much like the symptoms of major depressive disorder (MDD).  The two main differences are that SAD follows a seasonal pattern whereas MDD may be consistent until treated.  Sad will respond to Light Therapy alone whereas MDD may require medication and therapy. However people with MDD can benefit from light therapy

Binge Eating Disorder (BED) 

BED is characterized by eating  an extremely large amount of food at  one sitting and feeling out of control while doing so.  For example, one can easily overeat  at a popular restaurant (or for me at Thanksgiving!) but not necessarily feeling powerless around it.  Binges are almost always followed by a sense of shame or disgrace around it.  Note, this is different from mild regret:” Oh maybe I should have skipped dessert”. The circadian rhythm controls hunger and people typically eat more in winter.  Hence, the lack of daylight may be causing this so using the light box to increase daylight may reduce hunger. 


ADHD symptoms increase in the winter months.  People who use light therapy note a reduction in their ADHD symptoms.  


Light Therapy does not improve memory or cognition in people with dementia but it has been found to improve sleep and mood. 

woman standing near yellow petaled flower. This represent a woman with dementia benefiting for ma light therapy.
Photo by Edu Carvalho on


A small study of combat veterans found that light box therapy reduced PTSD symptoms.  The participants used the light boxes year round. 

Which Light Box is Best? 

Carex Day-Light and Northern Light Technologies  are well regarded. Whichever brand you buy, look for one that offers around 10,000 lux.  That is the most effective dose. 

How Should I Use This? 

Sit about a foot away from it.  Have the light box at a 30-40% angle above you so the bottom third is at eye level.  See the chart below for timing.  Aime for at least 30 minutes daily. You can use it while eating breakfast or doing morning work. 

Be careful using one if you have bipolar as it could trigger manic symptoms.  Check in with your doctor if you have any ocular problems prior to use. 

Diagnosis & Start Time
Insomnia 4am-5am
Bipolar 12noon-2pm (start with 15 minute increments)
Ideal Start Time per Diagnosis

Light Therapy is a powerful tool in your wellness kit.  However, sometimes people benefit from psychotherapy and/or medication.  If you think you need more, reach out to one of our clinicians at

Nurtured Well, LLC.  We would love to help you. 

*Much of this information was gathered from The Carlat Report

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