It’s fall and the weather has changed (quickly and drastically!). With the weather changing, so can your mood and energy. Here are some common questions I get about light therapy and how to use it to improve mood, energy and sleep.
What is Light Therapy?
Using light therapy is a life saver for so many people that struggle with low mood, feeling lethargic and having trouble sleeping during the winter/fall months. The purpose behind light therapy is to supplement the lack of sunlight you are getting during the winter and fall months. The sun is going down earlier and earlier as the days go on and your body and mind react to this change. Everyone reacts a little differently to the change in sunlight exposure through the fall months. Some notice increased anxiety or depression, others notice a change in appetite or sleep. Using a light box is way to try to mimic that sun exposure your body is craving.
How Do I Use a Lightbox?
Once you have a light box, start getting in the habit of using it daily. Use it the morning before you go to school or work. You can sit (or stand) in front of it while you are eating breakfast, reading, watching tv, or getting ready. You want to plan to do this for about 20-30 minutes. Don’t look directly into the light (we don’t want to hurt your eyes!) but make sure you can see the light out of the corner of your eyes. I recommend using it daily for the first 2 weeks to really see how it impacts your mood and energy levels.
Can I Use the Lightbox in the Evenings?
This varies for some people. If you have trouble falling asleep at night, then no. Exposure to strong light reduces melatonin production and this might cause you to have insomnia. But if you normally can fall asleep without much trouble then yes, 20 minute light exposure could be beneficial around 5-6PM as well as the morning time. It can help to experiment and see what works best for you.
Will a Light Box Help Me Sleep Better?
A light box is something that I learned a lot about when undergoing training in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia. A light box can help recharge your natural circadian rhythm because of the light exposure and helps reduce melatonin production during the day (which helps increase it at night). Here are 2 simple guidelines to help you determine the best time to use a light box.
-If you have trouble falling asleep at night use it in the morning.
-If you have trouble staying asleep at night you can use it in the evening between 5PM-6PM as well as using it the morning.
What Do I Look For in a Lightbox?
The good news it that they have them on Amazon! Look up “Happy Light”. The brighter the light , the more effective the therapy. Remember, you want one that is super bright because we want it to mimic sun exposure.
Anything I Should Know Before Using Light Therapy?
If you have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and experience manic episodes, it’s important to be working with your therapist on light therapy. Sometimes light therapy can trigger mania in certain individuals and it’s always best to be under the care of a mental health professional. Other then that, I have never seen any negative side effects from someone trying light therapy.
What Else Can I Do This Fall to Improve My Mood and Energy?
Lastly, think about getting vitamin D levels checked at your next doctors visit. Often, your doctor can recommend a vitamin D supplement to help with theses symptoms as well. When my clients are struggling with seasonal affective disorder I always recommend a combination of light therpay and having their doctor check vitamin D levels. It’s amazing how much better you can feel this fall and winter by doing these simple tasks to boost your mood!
About Danielle Swimm, LCPC: She is a therapist in Annapolis who specializes in treating eating disorders and anxiety. She has a passion for helping adolescents and adults improve their body image, manage anxiety and heal their relationship with food. She enjoys educating others on mind-body health and intuitive eating.