Frequently Asked Questions
A.How can light therapy help?
Getting sufficient light rebalances the melatonin (the hormone that makes you sleepy) and the serotonin (the hormone that makes you feel alert and happy).The light has to be bright enough, and must go in through the eye, to affect the hormone production in the brain. The Society for Light Treatment and Biological Rhythms (SLTBR) has stated that light therapy is the best non-drug therapy to treat SAD.
B.How should I choose a light therapy lamp?
Look at your daily routine, and consider when and where you are going to use your light therapy lamp. It will need to fit in with your lifestyle as easily as possible to ensure regular usage. Many styles can be used either at home or in an office environment. The longest treatment time you need to take with one of the less bright light lamp boxes is 1½ hours. So if you have only a little time to take your treatment, choose one of the brighter fast acting lamps, but if you are able to take your treatment for longer, for instance, while you are working at a desk, then a small, portable, less bright model may suit you better.
C.When is the best time to take my light therapy?
Light therapy should be taken as early as possible in the morning, to keep you going through the day. This is not always the case for everyone, but on the whole it is best earlier rather than later. It is preferable to take your treatment at the same time each day.
D.Do I have to take my treatment in one go?
No, you can interrupt your light treatment and continue it later on the same day if this suits your routine better.
E.What time of the year should I start and finish my light therapy treatment?
It is best to start using your light therapy unit early in the season, before any symptoms of SAD appear, preferably early September. Continue until March or April, whenever the days start to get brighter and longer.
F.How long until I start to notice a difference?
This can vary, but some people notice a difference from the first day of treatment, and some take longer, between 2-3 weeks. Usually you should see a difference in about a week or so. If you stop taking your treatment, the symptoms will start roughly in as many days as the benefits took to be felt.
G.Do I have to stare at the lamp?
No, you need to have the light aimed towards your eyes, without actually looking directly into it, about an arms distance away from you. You can carry on with your daily routine with the light therapy lamp on beside you, for example, it can be beside your computer terminal or on your desk, or near you while having breakfast, watching TV, ironing etc. Ideally it should be about an arms distance away from you, within your peripheral vision, not directly in front of you, and to glance at it from time to time.
H.Are there other conditions that can benefit from light therapy?
Yes, seasonal and non seasonal depression can both be helped with light therapy as well, people suffering with MS, ME, Bulimia, infertility, PMT, insomnia, fatigue, shift work sleep problems , Alzheimer's. It has even shown that fertility rates and libido can be improved.
I.Can light therapy lamp been used by children?
Yes, even very young children can suffer from SAD. The dawn simulators can be particularly beneficial. You must, however, follow normal safety guidelines as you would for any electrical appliance.
J.Benefits of Light Therapy
For thousands of years people the world over have revered the sun as a great healer; some ancient cultures even worshipped the sun. There is no doubt that the sun plays a very important role in our daily lives. We feel energized after spending time in the sun, and the winter can leave many of us feeling drowsy and less inclined to physical activity.
In the tropics the light is sufficiently intensive and available for a long period of time and free of charge the whole year round. In the northern part of the world, however, this is not the case. This is firstly due to the fact that the autumn and winter are relatively long and dark and secondly because of our lifestyle. We get up in the mornings surrounded by artificial light; we go to work at dawn, spend the day in an intensity of light of approximately 300 lux, return home at dusk and often spend the evenings sitting in a dim room watching television. Many people are very sensitive to this period of relative darkness, and experience many unpleasant symptoms as a result of this lack of light.
K.Possible Side Effects of Light Therapy
According to all recent research carried out, the side effects are minimal. In rare cases, headaches, sickness, irritability and a stinging sensation of the eyes might occur, but only very temporarily. Care should be exercised by patients with manic-depressive illnesses whereby a manic or hippomanic phase during the light therapy is possible - as is the case during other therapies or spontaneously.
SAD & Winter Blues (5)
SAD, or seasonal affective disorder, is now widely recognized as a medical condition, affecting about 25% of the population. Typical symptoms include: excessive tiredness, weight gain, social withdrawal, depressed mood, irritability, difficulty concentrating, carbohydrate cravings, and decreased libido (sex drive). Research has shown supplementing your exposure to light has benefits not only for Winter Blues, but also Jet Lag, PMS, Bulimia Nervosa, Fatigue, and non-seasonal Major Depression. SAD sufferers find that daily use of a good quality light therapy lamp enough to relieve them of their feelings of lethargy, depression and other related symptoms.
II.What Causes SAD?
When the light passes through the eyes into the brain, serotonin is released. During the fall and winter, there is less daylight than in the spring and summer, which causes a drop in the body's serotonin levels.
Serotonin is an important chemical in the brain known as a neurotransmitter. A neurotransmitter is a molecule in the brain that helps nerve cells to work together. One of the roles serotonin has in the brain is to act as a traffic cop to other neurotransmitters. Without enough serotonin, a wide range of body functions is affected, including mood. Less daylight is a trigger for the body to increase production of a certain hormone - melatonin. The role of melatonin is not clearly understood, but it is thought to help in the sleep process. The body releases it at night, during sleep.
Together, the lack of serotonin (which helps nerve cells cooperate) and the increase in melatonin (which put a body to sleep) cause SAD.
III.How do I know if I've got SAD?
If you always start to feel the symptoms start the same time each year, every Autumn/Winter it's very likely you suffer from SAD.
IV.Top 9 Ways to Beat the Winter Blues
1. Light up your life. Spending time outdoors during the day or arranging homes and workplaces to receive more sunlight can be really helpful. Keep curtains open in the daytime, let the light in!
2. Get moving. Take up regular exercise, it will reduce your stress and increase your endorphin levels- the feel good chemical - walking, swimming, cycling or aerobics.
3. Use a Light Therapy Lamp.
4. Dawn simulation. Some people, especially those that need to wake in the morning when it is still dark may benefit from lamps that simulate a slow, gradual sunrise, in the final hours of sleep. The gentle natural waking can really help with mood and alertness, and alleviate sleep problems.
5. Buy a negative ionizer. Research in light therapy has also shown that SAD sufferers may benefit from negative ionizers.
6. Eat more: raw fruits, vegetables, bananas, soy products, brown rice, millet, beans, and herbal teas.
7. Eat less: fat, protein, red meat, caffeine, alcohol, wheat, refined sugars.
8. Useful vitamins and minerals: Take daily magnesium and B complex vitamins. Take Vitamin D3, which helps in the utilization of calcium, phosphorus and in the assimilation of Vitamin A. A dose of 400 to 800 IU per day is recommended. Take Omega-3 essential fatty acids, shown to be effective in alleviating mild depression and symptoms of SAD.
9. Aromatherapy: Scents have been proven to have a powerful effect on our moods. The following are particularly effective in the treatment of mild SAD symptoms: Lemon Balm (mild sedative), Rosemary (Uplifting), Blend of Orange and Cinnamon, Lavender (to help you sleep), Grapefruit Oil, Blend of Jasmine and Bergamot oil (uplifting mix).
V.SAD and Winter Blues
Winter Blues is the common name for Seasonal Affective Disorder (S.A.D.), which is a sub-type of major depression. Up to 25% of North Europeans have some form of winter blues, and roughly twice as many women as men develop this condition. Most experience symptoms starting between the ages of twenty and forty, but even young children may be affected. Typically the symptoms are depressed mood, losing interest in work or social activities, eating more and weight gain, needing more sleep, feeling lethargic and drowsy. The symptoms start from September to March, December, January, and February are typically the worst months. The further from the equator, the higher is the incidence of SAD, due to the shorter winter days.
For example, winter blues is ten times more common in the northern countries than in the south. Children and teenagers also suffer from winter blues. Symptoms may include grades falling in the winter and rising in the spring, or poor relations at school during winter. Researchers in northern climates have found that as many as 90% of 12-15 year-olds report a lack of energy, depressed mood, or need for added sleep during winter. Both children and teenagers have been shown to respond well to light therapy. Light therapy for winter blues usually consists of 15-60 minutes of light every morning during the dark, depressing winter days. Typically, you will recognize when you've received sufficient light therapy.
1.Post Natal Depression
Many women suffer from depression during and after their pregnancies, maybe as many as 1 in 10. Studies are being conducted to show whether light therapy is useful in treating these depressed episodes, and early indications show that it is.
It has been proven that the use of light therapy for patients suffering from depression is as effective as it is for those suffering from SAD. A recent trial concluded that the benefits of light therapy were felt after only one week, whereas many medications took up to 8 weeks for the benefits to be felt. Also, using light therapy together with medication has superior results to either treatment on its own.
Bulimia is an eating disorder characterized by cycles of binge eating and purging. The eating binges often happen twice or more a week, usually in the evening. This is followed by induced vomiting, laxatives, or compulsive exercising to avoid gaining weight. Bulimics report feelings of guilt, self-loathing and feeling out of control. It is more common in women during their teenage or early adult years, about 1 to 3%, but can affect anyone. If bulimia remains untreated, it can cause serious physical and emotional problems.
Dr. Raymond Lam of the University of British Columbia has shown that bulimia also follows a seasonal pattern, with a marked increase of bulimic episodes occurring in winter, peaking in January. In fact, about 1/3rd of bulimics also suffer from SAD, whereas anorexics experience no seasonal change in their symptoms. Dr Lam conducted a study using light therapy for bulimics, and it was found that using 30 minutes of light therapy for 2 weeks cut their binge and purge symptoms by half, whether they were found to be suffering from SAD or not. The depression also showed a marked improvement, the biggest improvement showing in those whose bulimia followed a seasonal pattern.
It was concluded that the frequent and excessive eating in bulimia upsets inner body rhythms, and that light therapy may help to regulate these rhythms, contributing to good mental and physical health.
Jet lag occurs when you cross into different time zones with air travel, disrupting the normal sleeping and waking pattern and unbalancing the body clock. This disruption can affect over 50 of the body's rhythms. Jet Lag causes symptoms such as: fatigue, poor concentration, trouble sleeping, irritability, minor depression, altered perception of time and distance, and digestive problems. The symptoms are at their worst in the first two days after crossing three or more time zones, and it takes about one day for each time zone crossed to fully adjust.
It is possible to avoid, or at least minimize the effect of, jet lag with light therapy. For instance, when traveling east you need to move your clock forward. You can achieve this by staying awake and surrounding yourself with light, going out doors or having light therapy. This will help move the body clock forward to more closely match your destination time zone.
People who work nights are two to five times more likely to fall asleep on the job and have accidents. A night worker, even one who has slept reasonably well, is no more alert between 2 a.m. and 8 a.m. than a day worker who has slept only 4 hours per night two nights in a row. Late-night sleepiness can impair the judgment of doctors, police, fire fighters, ambulance drivers and airline pilots. The costs of mistakes made due to fatigue are incalculable. In our modern society many different professions have to work irregular hours, but are still expected to perform tasks requiring attention, reasoning, decision-making, and other mental skills. Shift workers who fail to adapt to their schedule often develop chronic fatigue and increased susceptibility to illness.
Effective treatment using light therapy consists of bright light exposure at wake up time, even for only 40 minutes, and complete darkness during the day for four days. The treatment is even more successful if you are able to avoid the early morning sun when coming home from work by wearing dark glasses. This treatment shifts the circadian rhythms, resulting in improved performance and alertness during work hours, and increased ability to sleep during their rest periods.
The use of good full spectrum lighting in school or the workplace, instead of conventional fluorescent lighting, has been proven to improve productivity, academic achievement and reduce rates of absenteeism.
Alzheimer's is a degenerative brain disorder, in which patients are mentally confused, often agitated and have severe memory problems.
Recently, 2 recent studies have confirmed that bright-light therapy appear to help Alzheimer's patients sleep better and get less agitated. In the study, researchers from the Manchester Royal Infirmary in Manchester, England, evaluated 47 nursing home residents who all had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's or other problems that lead to mental confusion, memory loss and dementia. Half of the patients received bright light therapy, the other half using only a dimmer light, each day for 2 weeks. The treatment group was shown to sleep longer and was less agitated.
It has been recommended that planning daily activities to make good use of daylight can help, such as serving breakfast facing a sunny window, or planning more outdoor activities on sunny days, as well as using light therapy lamps.
8.Pre-Menstrual Syndrome- PMS
Women's menstrual cycle is regulated by light and dark as well as by hormones, and circumstances that upset the body clock, such as changing regular sleeping and waking patterns, jet lag, and shift work, may upset their menstrual cycle. Each month, women report symptoms such as fluid retention, weight gain, bloating, breast tenderness, poor sleep, irritability, blue moods, and other symptoms in the 3 to 5 days before their periods start, and for the first day or two of menstruation. The combination of emotional and physical symptoms is referred to as Premenstrual Syndrome. Light therapy is able to promote strong daily rhythms, and can in this way assist in regulating the menstrual cycle.
9.Sleep Related Problems
1. Early Morning Insomnia
Those suffering from this illness, find that they cannot sleep in the early morning. The best way to treat this sleep disorder is to use light therapy in the evening, before bedtime. You will still go to sleep at the usual time, but it has been found to extend the sleep period by about 1-½ hours.
2. Night-owl Insomnia
Some people suffer from a type of insomnia where they have difficulty in falling asleep until early morning, often resulting in regular use of alcohol or sleeping pills. It is also known as delayed sleep phase syndrome (DSPS), or night-owl insomnia, and usually develops during the teen years. If you restrict bright light in the evening and use light therapy in the morning this can successfully treat this condition, as well as improving alertness in the daytime.
Research has shown that fertility rates are higher at the equator, where daylight hours are longer than in far northern latitudes and that fertility rates are lower among the blind compared to those who have their sight. Women with longer or irregular cycles have higher infertility rates than those with shorter and more regular cycles. About 1 of 25 women in North America have cycles that last 35 days or more, or that vary considerably from cycle to cycle. A cycle that consistently averages about 28 days has been shown to boost a woman's odds of conceiving.
While every woman's physiology is unique and will have different responses to different types of therapy, light has been shown to have significant effects in the regulation of the menstrual cycle. Light therapy for 15-60 minutes every morning during the premenstrual period may help relieve these symptoms.
11.How did this treatment develop? How long has it been in use?
No absolute contra-indication for light therapy is known. We recommend an eye test, which should be carried out by a qualified optician in order to make certain that the patient has no ocular illnesses. In addition, it is necessary for an optician to supervise the light therapy if the patient is simultaneously undergoing medical therapy which increases the sensitivity of the eyes to light.
13.How often will I need to change the bulbs?
It is advisable to change the bulbs every three years, as all fluorescent tubes loose some of their brightness with time, which will weaken the effectiveness of the lamp.
14.Unscrambling the Terminology
-LUX is unit to measure light intensity that actually reaches the target. Lux varies depending upon how far away the target is from the light source and other environmental factors such as wall colour, reflectors, etc.
-KELVIN The colour of light.
Kelvin: A measure of how yellow, blue or white the light from a bulb will look to the human eye. Lower Kelvin rated bulbs will appear more yellowish, while higher Kelvin bulbs appear to be bluer. A bulb with a Kelvin rating between 5000 to 6500 is comparable to mid-day sun. The higher the Kelvin number, the more blue is in the light, and the brighter the light appears.
This can also be expressed in temperature, or how cool or warm the light source appears. Red/orange/yellow colours and light sources from this side of the spectrum are described as warm, with a low colour temperature (incandescent). Colours and light sources toward the blue end with a high colour temperature are referred to as cool (natural daylight).
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