The Science of SAD Light Therapy (Seasonal Affective Disorder)
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is the regular occurrence of depression in fall and winter with symptom remission in spring and summer. The use of bright light therapy for the treatment of Seasonal Affective Disorder (using blue or white SAD Lights), is supported by decades of research. In fact, light therapy is typically considered the first line of treatment for SAD. Symptom remission usually begins within 4 days of phototherapy, and depressive symptoms are completely alleviated after one week of light therapy.
A 2006 study by the American Journal of Psychiatry compared the efficacy of SAD phototherapy with treatment of the antidepressant Fluoxetine, finding that they were equally effective (63%), though the light therapy group reported fewer side effects (in addition to treating SAD, Fluoxetine caused agitation, sleep disturbance, and palpitations). While most studies agree upon a roughly 60% rate of effectiveness for SAD light therapy, one trial found that the effectiveness increased to 73% with the addition of simple behavioral therapy techniques (Rohan, 2007). A meta-analysis of 39 independent SAD Phototherapy studies found bright light (between 6000 lux and 10,000 lux) to be the most effective at alleviating typical Seasonal Affective Disorder symptoms (Lee).
White light therapy has become a well-established treatment for Seasonal Affective Disorder, growing evidence suggests that these devices can also be highly effective at managing some non-seasonal forms of depression, as well as jet lag, Shift Work Syndrome, and circadian sleep disorders (particularly Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome).
Reviews of Popular SAD Lights:
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A lightweight, highly portable SAD light, perfect as a starter SAD light or for travel. Even with its compact size, it still offers an impressive brightness of 10,000 lux, proven to be the ideal brightness for alleviating SAD symptoms in the shortest duration of time (30 minutes daily).
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Also offers 10,000 lux, but with a much larger range of illumination for greater comfort and ease of use. Projects light downward, mimicking the natural angle of sunlight. Can help relieve symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder, Circadian Sleep Disorders, Shift Work Adjustment, Jet Lag, and Low Energy.
Lam, R. W., Levitt, A. J., Levitan, R. D., Enns, M. W., & al, e. (2006). The can-SAD study: A randomized controlled trial of the effectiveness of light therapy and fluoxetine in patients with winter seasonal affective disorder. The American Journal of Psychiatry, 163(5), 805-12
Lee, T. M. C. and C. C. H. Chan (May 1999). “Dose-response relationship of phototherapy for seasonal affective disorder: a meta-analysis.” Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica. Volume 99, Issue 5, pages 315–323.
Rohan, K. J., Roecklein, K. A., Tierney Lindsey, K., Johnson, L. G., Lippy, R. D., Lacy, T. J., & Barton, F. B. (2007). A randomized controlled trial of cognitive-behavioral therapy, light therapy, and their combination for seasonal affective disorder. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 75(3), 489-500.
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