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What is a light therapy lamp?
A light therapy lamp, also known as a sun lamp, is a unique screen that often looks similar to a tablet; this screen emits a light, which mimics natural light.
They are mainly used to treat a medical condition referred to as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), which affects people during the winter season.
However, the uses of light therapy lamps do not end here, and recent studies keep discovering new avenues where they can be used.
Why do you need them?
As we mentioned earlier, light therapy lamps are used to manage some medical conditions, either as the primary modality of treatment or in adjunction with other conventional therapies.
Nevertheless, most of the conditions that can benefit from light therapy include hormonal disturbances in melatonin, serotonin, or both.
Here are some situations where you can use light therapy lamps:
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD)
Seasonal affective disorder or creatively abbreviated “SAD,” is a mood disorder that often affects people with no mental health issues, at the same time every year, especially during winter.
For this reason, SAD is mostly seen in Northern countries during the winter season, where little to no light reaches the ground.
Symptoms of SAD are similar to those seen in depression and can be remembered by the acronym SIG-E-CAPS:
- S: Sleep disturbances (insomnia or hypersomnia)
- I: Interest (reduced interest)
- G: Guilt (feeling guilty all the time)
- E: Energy (decreased energy and feeling tired all the time)
- C: Concentration (decreased concentration)
- A: Appetite (increased or decreased appetite)
- P: Psychomotor (decreased mental acuity and focus, as well as physical activity)
- S: Suicide (suicidal thoughts)
Although seasonal affective disorder’s symptoms are usually not as severe as clinical depression, in some cases, this can cause a huge issue.
For many years, people didn’t understand this phenomenon, and I mean, why would you feel depressed if the sun doesn’t reach your skin?
This has led physicians like Norman E. Rosenthal, M.D., in the 80s to think about the reason behind this. After years of research, SAD is believed to be caused by the decrease in melatonin concentration, which is usually produced when Ultraviolet (UV) light, coming from the sun, stimulates some special cells found in the retina.
Moreover, serotonin is also decreased in patients with seasonal affective disorder.
Understanding the pathogenesis of SAD has led to some innovative therapeutical modalities like light therapy.
Before inventing light therapy lamps, patients used to go to clinics that have special rooms with huge screens that emit UV light.
Now it’s more convenient than ever with the small portable light lamps that you can put at your home or your office.
Other types of depression
Although rarely used as a primary treatment modality, light therapy has shown some benefits in the management of non-seasonal depression disorders.
Non-seasonal depression is theorized to be the result of a significant reduction in the neurotransmitter, serotonin. Still, there is little evidence that shows a parallel decrease in melatonin, which is why more research is needed in this area before starting to implement light therapy in treating this type of depression.
Jet lag is caused by traveling through multiple time zones when your biological hour (circadian rhythm) is still set to the time zone you traveled from.
This will cause sleep disturbances, which can be an issue, especially for students and workers.
So how does light therapy lamps help with jet lag? Well, the answer is simple. Jet lags are usually treated spontaneously by getting exposed to natural sunlight, whether early in the morning or late in the evening.
The bad news is that this natural process might take a few days to reset your biological clock to the current time zone, and by that time, you might be taking a plane back to the region you departed from, and the cycle will happen again.
Fortunately, with light therapy lamps, you can drastically accelerate this process, so that you’re back to normal as soon as possible.
Aside from jet lag, patients with sleep disorders, such as Advanced phase syndrome and Delayed phase syndrome, might benefit from light therapy to regulate their sleep according to their daily schedule.
Do light therapy lamps work for depression?
Theoretically, light therapy lamps and phototherapy, in general, should be able to treat SAD and other sleep disturbances, since it increases melatonin levels in the central nervous system, which is believed to be the primary reason people experience seasonal depression.
However, on the practical side of things, phototherapy is not always enough to fully cure SAD and sleep disorders. For this reason, you’ll find that your physician will choose one treatment modality (pharmaceutical drugs or psychotherapy), and supplement it with light therapy for additional benefits.
What are the side effects of light therapy lamps?
In general, light therapy is considered to be safe; however, some side effects have been reported and include:
Although most of these symptoms are not severe enough to cause any irreversible damage, you can decrease their severity by reducing the duration of exposure to the light and/or lowering the intensity.
If the adverse effects are more severe or take long periods to disappear, you may consider using sunscreen, eye drops, and nasal drops for extra protection.
Nevertheless, using ambulatory (at home) phototherapy should not be done without consulting with your primary care physician first; you see, some people have particularly sensitive skin and eyes that might get really damaged by phototherapy.
Final Thoughts on Light Therapy Lamps for depression
Using light therapy lamps to treat the seasonal affective disorder and other sleep disorders, has benefited many patients who weren’t able to get conventional phototherapy because of socioeconomic reasons, scheduling issues, or simple inconvenience.
This field, on the other hand, has not been fully deciphered, and more research is needed. With that being said, researchers and physicians are optimistic about the potential benefits of this technique.
If you have tried light therapy lamps before or know someone who did, I would be happy to read your experiences in the comment section below.
Results may vary. Information and statements made are for general purposes and are not intended to replace the advice of your doctor. Her Own Health does not dispense medical advice, prescribe, or diagnose illness. The views and nutritional advice expressed by Her Own Health are not intended to be a substitute for conventional medical service. If you have a severe medical condition or health concern, see your physician.