Light Therapy (SAD) Lamps
What is light therapy and what does it treat?
As fall and winter set in, when the skies turn grey and the sun sets early, many Canadians experience seasonal mood changes. The most common is the winter blues, a feeling of less positivity and energy during the winter months. Those with severe symptoms may be diagnosed by their physician with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). About 2-5% of Canadians suffer from SAD, while 10-15% may experience the milder winter blues. Symptoms for both may include fatigue, sadness, weight gain, poor sleep and social withdrawal. Sunlight can help combat seasonal mood disorders, but getting enough exposure can be difficult with the shorter days of winter. For many, light therapy may be a viable and effective option. Light therapy mimics natural outdoor light and appears to regulate the hormones associated with mood. Research on light therapy has been conducted since the 1980’s and has been shown to be effective for many in relieving the symptoms of seasonal mood disorders. Clinical trials have also shown it may help with other conditions such as circadian sleep disorders, antepartum blues and jet lag.
Is light therapy safe?
Light therapy is generally safe and there are no known long-term side effects. Short-term side effects are rare and if they occur are usually mild and can include nausea, headaches and / or eye strain. Light therapy is not for everyone. Our promotional material will advise customers to talk to their doctor before starting light therapy if: they experience the severe symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder; they take medications or herbal supplements that increases sensitivity to sunlight, such as certain antibiotics, anti-depressants, anti-inflammatories, or St. John's Wort; they have an eye condition that makes eyes sensitive to light, such as macular degeneration, retinal disease, and diabetes; they have bipolar disorder; or they have concerns about severe allergic reactions.
Why are we offering therapy lamps?
A lamp that meets the clinical guidelines for effective light therapy can range from $200-$300, a cost that is prohibitive to many patrons. Others may just want to try light therapy before opting to purchase their own lamp. Other libraries have had overwhelmingly positive feedback from introducing light therapy.
How are we offering therapy lamps?
The lamps are available at the access desk.
How should light therapy be used?
It is recommended that users sit, read or work in front of the lamp for a maximum of 20-30 minutes a day. Portable units do not meet the strict clinical guidelines of larger therapy lamps, but still provides some benefits of light therapy, including the recommended maximum of 10,000 LUX of natural spectrum light (when used at a distance of 10 cm from the lamp). Ideally, light therapy should be administered from above to minimize treatment time and best reach the users eyes; however, tabletop lamps also provide benefits to alleviate the winter blues, albeit less efficiently.
Where can further information be found?
- Medline Plus
- Mayo Clinic: Light Therapy
- Mayo Clinic: Seasonal Affective Disorder
- Cleveland Clinic: Seasonal Depression
- Canadian Mental Health Association (British Columbia): Seasonal Affective Disorder
- Dr. Robert Levitan, Centre for Addiction and Mental Health: Understanding Seasonal Affective Disorder
Thank-you to the Halifax Public Library, whose staff FAQ this document is based on