How helpful are light therapy products for SAD?

It is now generally accepted that light therapy is a viable treatment for SAD. Large controlled clinical trials, involving six institutions, and more than 200 patients with SAD, were conducted over three fall/winter seasons beginning 1989. One of these trials which involved 105 patients and six institutions (National Institute of Mental Health, McLean Hospital, Harvard Medical School, University of Utah, University of British Columbia, University of Toronto) was the single largest controlled trial ever done on the use of light treatment for SAD (Joffe, R., et. al., Psych Research, 1993, 46:29-39). Results of another trial involving 55 patients have also been published. (Rosenthal, N.E., et. al.,Neuropsychopharmacology, 1993, Vol 8, No. 2). Clinical efficacy was demonstrated in all three trials.

For more information on the scientific research confirming the value of light treatments, please refer to our Scientific Research tab.

How much light is optimal?

Every light therapy product provides a measured amount of full spectrum light that is the equivalent to standing outdoors on a clear day. The intensity of the light- known as lux - depends on the product , and how close you are sitting to it. Every product needs to provide at least 2,500 lux, which is 5 to 10 times brighter than ordinary room lighting.  Some light boxes provide 10,000 lux, which means you spend less time with your light therapy every day.

Because the Light Visor™ lamps are fixed close to the eyes, it is more efficient than a light box. Many people have found that 20-to-40 minutes of Light Visor™ use in the morning is ideal as a seasonal light supplement. However, there is considerable individual variation in effective light doses. The light intensity of the Light Visor™ can be adjusted up to 3000 lux to meet a wide range of needs. Increased energy levels, and alertness, balanced mood swings, and sleep/wake cycles will return to regular levels once light therapy is succeeding.

What about full spectrum light?

Early researchers in light therapy thought it was necessary to use "full spectrum" light (light that imitates the color spectrum of natural sunlight, including UV). However, controlled clinical trials using white light (like that of most light bulbs) have shown that as long as the light is bright enough it can be effective. Full spectrum lights emit UV light which can be damaging to the eyes and skin. Quality light boxes, and the Light Visor™, emit white light with no UV.

What advantages does the Light Visor™ offer?

Light boxes and light therapy desk lamps are tremendously valuable for people able to sit in front of them every morning regularly, for example while working at their desk. It is not necessary to look directly into the unit, but it is important to sit within three feet of it for therapeutic success. The Light Visor™ is a breakthrough in light use convenience and efficiency. It weighs only 5 ounces and fits comfortably on your head. Because it is powered by a rechargeable battery pack, which you can clip to your belt, the user is free to move about. The Light Visor™ delivers light from above the eyes, so it doesn't obscure vision or interfere with normal activities. It is portable and convenient for travel.

Are there side effects from using light therapy?

In clinical trials, the frequency of minor side effects such as eye strain, fatigue, feeling "wired", headache and insomnia were reported as extremely low, and are quickly alleviated by reducing light intensity and/or time of use. To date, there have been no reports of any long-term adverse effects of light therapy when properly used.

Can bright lights be harmful to the eyes?

Sunlight contains ultra-violet, infra-red rays, as well a variety of colors in its spectrum. Artificial light therapy needs to maximize the intensity of the light it produces, while filtering out the UV rays. Because UV rays in intensity can prompt the development of macular degeneration and skin problems, it is imperative that you purchase quality equipment from an established company that has been in business for years, and is a member of the Circadian Lighting Association. All of the clinical trials using the Light Visor™ received Institutional Review Board approval for human subjects. Safety is a major factor in receiving such approval. Furthermore, BioBrite commissioned a "hazard analysis" conducted by independent experts. It concluded that the energy emitted by the Light Visor™ is far below the threshold limit values recommended in national standards for photobiological safety of lamps and lighting systems. To our knowledge, BioBrite is the only manufacturer of light therapy equipment that has undertaken this type of analysis. Nevertheless, anyone with a known or suspected eye disease should consult an ophthalmologist.

Are light therapy products covered by medical insurance?

Approximately 50% of those who have applied for third party coverage of therapeutic light have been successful in obtaining some amount of reimbursement. A letter from a prescribing physician or qualified therapist is generally necessary.