light box for seasonal affective disorder

Do Light Boxes Help with Seasonal Affective Disorder?

When you look for relief from the winter blues, you’ve probably run into all sorts of products that claim to be the cure. Light boxes fall into that category, but can they really combat seasonal affective disorder? We take a look from a scientific and medical perspective below.

What is Seasonal Affective Disorder? 

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a pretty common mood disorder. Around 25% of people get serious or mild SAD every year around the winter months.

If you feel down around the holidays, SAD might be to blame. You may feel cranky, withdrawn, depressed or just not quite like yourself. You might notice yourself sleeping longer or even gaining weight.

What Causes Seasonal Affective Disorder? 

It all has to do with a chemical called serotonin. Serotonin is an important chemical that helps your body with things like digestion and healing.

Serotonin also regulates your mood. It’s sometimes called “the happy chemical” because it decreases anxiety and generally boosts your happiness.

Sunlight helps your body produce serotonin. As summer turns to fall and to winter, the days get shorter. Less sunlight means less serotonin, which can interfere with your mood all season long.

What is a Light Box? 

You’ve probably heard of these by any number of names. They’re sometimes marketed as light boxes, “happy lights,” light phototherapy boxes, light therapy lamps, lamps for seasonal affective disorder or SAD lamps.

Whatever they’re called, it’s all the same idea: these are tablet-shaped table lamps that shine really bright light — about 20 times brighter than typical indoor lighting. Light boxes are supposed to give you the closest thing you can get to natural sunlight during the dim winter months.

Supposedly, light boxes fight off seasonal affective disorder. By using them for just 30 minutes every morning during winter, manufacturers claim you’ll have more energy and stay happier throughout the day.

Do Light Boxes Really Work? 

That’s where things get a little hazy.

There is a good amount of evidence to suggest that sunlight and serotonin are linked — scientists just aren’t quite sure why that is yet. What’s clear is that serotonin levels are highest during sunny seasons and lowest during the darker months.

Studies tend to agree that sunlight does help your body produce or activate serotonin, which could be the key to staving off seasonal affective disorder. It stands to reason, then, that the bright light from light boxes might actually do some good. It’s worth noting that light boxes are only about 1/10 as bright as a sunny day, though. They’re not a direct replacement for sunlight.

That being said, light boxes aren’t a medical solution to seasonal affective disorder. Insurance plans generally don’t cover you buying one, and they aren’t approved or regulated by the FDA.

Long answer short, light boxes can’t hurt. But if they don’t help, you can lean on Community for true support. Your mental health is our priority year round, and you can see a specialist from the comfort of home with Virtual Visits. Find a partner for your mental health and schedule your first appointment today.