depression winter light box
November 10, 2006 10:30 PM   Subscribe

Hello lovies. Depression sufferer seeks lightbox testimonials/recommendations.

Apropos of and prompted by the thread on surviving winter and fighting the good fight against depression, I'm considering purchasing a light box to give it a go, based on the rationale "why the hell not." However, at present that's basically the entire contents of the "pro" column. That and the fact that any potential side effects are minimal compared to all the drugs that have fallen short of the mark. Can anyone help me come up with a better list of reasons, such as personal anecdotes and such, and maybe even specific product endorsements?
My psyche thanks you in advance.
posted by foxy_hedgehog to Health & Fitness (20 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
And I meant "Hello lovelies." But "lovies" works too.
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 10:33 PM on November 10, 2006

Unless you have Seasonal Affective Disorder-related depression, a lightbox won't be helpful, right?

I use one myself - doesn't have a brand on it, unfortunately, and I got it a a gift, so I can't tell you where it's from. I use it as my main desk lamp, actually, and it's fairly unobtrusive, though people do seem to find the quality of its light appealing (it is full spectrum, after all). Not incredibly so, but, "hey, nice lamp". I do notice a change when I use it regularly, but the room where it is isn't very well lit (and it is *bright*), so that could be anything.

As you say, there are no side effects (well, I've heard that it's possible to be sunburnt by one, but I've never had that happen, and it seems like it'd be an easy thing to notice and avoid if it does). It was a bit more expensive than the cheap dorm-targeted lamps I otherwise would've bought, but it is a nice lamp in its own regard - heavy base so it doesn't tip, and very bright, so even if it's not effective for your depression, it's not a total waste. Give it a shot!
posted by spaceman_spiff at 10:42 PM on November 10, 2006

I live in a region where it is very cold and dark a good part of the year. I have never tried a light box, but I know when my cube at work was moved to a cube next to the window my mood improved drastically. I think it was the increase in sunlight. This is a low-risk high-reward prospect. Go for it.
posted by Deep Dish at 10:57 PM on November 10, 2006

I'd say go for it also; as DD says, it's a low-risk high-reward prospect. It really helps my SO's mood in the winter (doesn't do much for me).

I've read conflicting things about what's important in a light box, though. Studies seem to show that spectrum isn't important in treating SAD, just light intensity and timing. But I've read elsewhere that spectrum does have a large effect on how light entrains your circadian rhythm.
posted by hattifattener at 1:26 AM on November 11, 2006

I asked something similar last year and got some good info and advice. Don't know if the link is still available. Once again, I'm thinking about light boxes; I wasn't convinced or motivated or stirred to actually buy one then. But every year around this time, friends and family concur, I lose momentum and good cheer. Since it's so seasonally predictable, light could certainly be at issue.
posted by lois1950 at 2:21 AM on November 11, 2006

There are a few previous questions about SAD in which lightboxes have been discussed. I have the Pharos Vari and like it a lot but I would guess that you'll want to order from somewhere in the States. I think if you look around you may be able to find somewhere in the US that will give you a free or low-cost trial period to see if the equipment works for you.

Your basic choices are between a big, powerful light box which you'll need to use for 15-45 mins, or something less powerful which will take longer to use - a lot longer in some cases, but you can work at the same time. Both can be reasonable choices, but don't think that you can get away with using a low-power device close up for a relatively short period, I tried that and it was a waste of time.

Regarding side effects, if I use it too much or too late in the day I can experience hypomania (actually kind of nice but I can't sit down and concentrate when this happens!) and/or insomnia. It may take you a few weeks to figure out the right protocol for you.
posted by teleskiving at 4:36 AM on November 11, 2006

Oh, and it is definitely still worth a try even if you're not sure if your depression is seasonal.
posted by teleskiving at 4:37 AM on November 11, 2006

I've just started using one for sleep problems. I ordered from this site (Center for Enviromental Therapeutics), which also offers a 'test' to determine level of depression and corresponding advice for your individual use of a lightbox (AutoSigh). I found 'Ask the Doctor' to be very helpful. Good article for criteria on light box selection, too.

The box sits right on my desk top. High enough to stand over my monitor. I just turn it on in the morning while surfing the net. It has worked amazingly well and I've had no side effects.
posted by LadyBonita at 6:18 AM on November 11, 2006 [1 favorite]

If you have SAD, then it probably will help. It helped me immensely and pretty much immediately. Just be sure to do it every day, especially if you catch that depressed voice telling you nothing will help.

Even if you don't have sad, I suggest you try it.
posted by milarepa at 6:44 AM on November 11, 2006

Here's the link from the question I asked last year about SAD
posted by lois1950 at 7:20 AM on November 11, 2006

I purchased this GoLite last year during a particularly difficult bout of SAD. I did not use it on a regular schedule, and had expected my symptoms to go away with the first treatment. This of course led me to stuffing the lightbox into the back of my closet and forgetting about it.

Later, I started taking a Vitamin D supplement (*mini plug* Carlson Norwegian Cod Liver Oil, Lemon Flavored!) and noticed a noticable improvement in my mood after a couple weeks. (also, family members commented that I seemed like I was "not PMSing 24/7 anymore")

I started using the lightbox again a couple months ago to help me wake up in the mornings (I use it for 30 minutes while sitting at my desk). With scheduled use, it seemed to really help regulate my sleep schedule.

But then I stopped using it for a couple weeks and my sleep suffered.

So all in all I believe the vitamin d supplement helped the SADness more, but the lightbox was really essential in attaining regular sleep patterns, and regular, GOOD sleep really helps everyone feel better.
posted by zippity at 9:22 AM on November 11, 2006 [1 favorite]

I had a lightbox and sold it bc I found it didn't help.
posted by Amizu at 9:32 AM on November 11, 2006

IANAD but I whupped the Black Dog by replacing the two main bulbs in my living room with bright full spectrum low energy bulbs and increasing the wattage of the rest.It does take a bit of getting used to,like living on a film set.
posted by Dr.Pill at 9:51 AM on November 11, 2006

I started taking a Vitamin D supplement (*mini plug* Carlson Norwegian Cod Liver Oil, Lemon Flavored!) and noticed a noticable improvement in my mood

It's not the vitamin D, probably, but the essential fatty acids in the oil. Most depressed people could benefit from some oil supplementation.
posted by kindall at 11:16 AM on November 11, 2006 [1 favorite]

It sounds like you're wondering first whether it'd just be a waste of your time. The answer to that is no, it's not a waste to give it a try. Clinical tests have established that light therapy works, the effect is about equivalent to what meds do, and is useful for a variety of conditions besides SAD (including the regular non-seasonal types of depression). Will it work for you? Well, just like meds there's no way to know until you try; some people respond well, some people get nada.

However, you need to do light therapy correctly, which not everyone is aware of. Also, like meds, it's not an overnight fix. So plan on allowing a couple weeks before you start noticing the difference (or conclude it's not working).

I lost over a decade to the hell of uncontrolled severe bipolar and seasonal depression. Nothing made more than a slight temporary difference. Which is why it awes me that a stupid little book, a light box and a dawn simulator have so thoroughly transformed that chaotic, miserable nothing of a life into one that's manageable and joyful and -- whee! -- sane.

posted by nakedcodemonkey at 11:33 AM on November 11, 2006 [3 favorites]

Wonderful advice- and my apologies for not doing a search on SAD for previous links. Thanks for the references and recs.

I got back on this topic after a psychiatrist suggested a lightbox as the latest trick in the hit parade, despite my having plain old demonic depression (vs. SAD per se). It seems that are those who need extra light even when it's light out. I'm probably one of them.

I'm also intrigued by the cod liver idea- I was tested for all kinds of deficiencies and disorders that might be aggravating things (B12, siliac disease etc. etc.) but no one ever mentioned oil.

Again, my thanks.
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 2:44 PM on November 11, 2006

By no means do you have to actually buy a all-in-one lightbox and sit in front of it. I've read that exposure to lower-intensity full-spectrum light for longer periods can be helpful, too. I realize this remains a matter for debate, but the reason "lightboxes" as an object were created was to provide the controlled conditions necessary for research. You don't necessarily have to get a lightbox.

I changed the fluorescent bulb at my desk to one of these bulbs from Way cheaper.
posted by Mr. Gunn at 3:48 PM on November 11, 2006

It's not the vitamin D, probably, but the essential fatty acids in the oil. Most depressed people could benefit from some oil supplementation.


Actually, before trying the cod liver oil I had already been taking other omega 3 fatty acid supplements (fish oil pills, flaxmeal, flax oil eww) none of which contain vitamin D as the cod liver oil does, and none of which helped my depression at all.

I read somewhere that a vitamin d deficiency is one of the leading causes of depression, especially SAD (since vitamin D is normally obtained through the skin's exposure to sunlight and people are deficient of sunlight during the colder months, which is when SAD affects most people).

(sources: Wikipedia, UMMC, this website, google "vitamin d" to find more)

Also foxy_hedgehog, whichever method(s) you decide to go with to combat your SAD, remember that consistently using the treatment will yield the best results (I forgot to mention that in my first post). Good luck! =]
posted by zippity at 5:57 PM on November 11, 2006 [1 favorite]

I have had SAD for many years, and I have used a lightbox successfully.

As others have noted, it's really how you use it that makes a difference. I use mine right after I wake up for twenty minutes, and I use it from September 1 until April 1. Every day. Make it a part of your routine.

Go see your doctor if you are not sure. When I went to see my physician, he gave me a 20 question survey. From the survey results, he was able to determine my SADness right away.

If you can get a doctor's prescription for a light, and you're lucky enough to have a medical expense reimbursement account, they normally qualify for that kind of benefit, too.

And no, full-spectrum lights will not make the difference. It is more the intensity and duration of the light exposure that make the difference.

Here are some nice resources to read about SAD, and here is a handy quiz.
posted by rachelpapers at 6:36 PM on November 12, 2006

I read somewhere that a vitamin d deficiency is one of the leading causes of depression, especially SAD

Hm. I bought some cod liver oil last night to try it out. Only one day, but it may be helping; I felt quite blah yesterday (winter's definitely here in Seattle) but am much better today.
posted by kindall at 1:29 AM on November 16, 2006

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