The Mayo Clinic has an excellent article on the use of light therapy for treatment of Seasonal Affective Disorder, depression, obsessive compulsive disorder and some sleep disorders. The article includes the benefits and side-effects of using light boxes as well as instructions on using a light box.
The Mayo Clinic makes the point that the effectiveness of using light boxes vary, from being as good or better than medications for some people, while others get little or no benefit. This is possibly due to the large range of light boxes available and the different theories on the appropriate spectrum of light to use and the duration of treatment.
Light boxes can be expensive to purchase, however it is also possible to rent them on a trial basis to see whether they are effective for you. The Apollo GoLite box is a popular model that a lot of people have recommended (I've never used one as I find the winters here are quite mild and I can usually get enough natural light to keep depression at bay). In addition to using the light boxes there are also special light bulbs and desk lamps you can purchase.
Some of the features to look for in a light box are:
- Rechargeable batteries e.g. Philips goLITE BLU Light Therapy Device
- International adaptors (or chargeable via a USB or other device) for international travelling e.g. Syrcadian Blue SB-1000 Sad Light Therapy Device
- Portability for taking to work or use in different rooms in the house
- Battery life
- Bulb life
- Bulb replacement cost
Once you have purchased the light box, most models will last a few years, but it pays to check out the replacement at the end of this time. Some will allow you to replace the bulb, other models require you to replace the entire box which can be costly. However, if you don't have insurance the light box can still be cheaper than medications without the stigma or side-effects of anti-depressants.
You can purchase models with rechargeable batteries which are ideal for travelling, or units that use power cables. You can even purchase a model that is powered by the USB in your laptop or computer, such as the Syrcadian Blue SB-1000 Sad Light Therapy Device.
Some people get instant relief from using their SAD light therapy box while other people find it takes a few days or up to a week to notice any improvement.
This doesn't mean that light boxes don't have side-effects, however most people find them tolerable. Some people with bipolar disorder may experience manic episodes, while others may find that the light box affects their skin, or induces headaches or eyestrain but the majority of people that I've spoken to have nothing but praise for their light box. Most of these side-effects last only a few days but if you are experiencing problems, discontinue the use of your light box and check with a medical professional.
For the full list of light therapy devices (including lights to wake you in the morning!) click here.