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How to Use a Full Spectrum Light for SAD

By Sava Tang Alcantara ; Updated August 14, 2017

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) occurs during winter when people are exposed to fewer hours of natural sunlight. Symptoms of this condition include anxiety, fatigue, depression, overeating, weight gain and oversleeping. About half a million Americans experience SAD, or winter-onset depression, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians. Using full-spectrum lights as light boxes or special bulbs and lamps can help reduce the negative symptoms of SAD.

Decide on a Visor, Lightbox or Bulbs

  1. Determine what kind of exposure to full-spectrum light is best for you. If you are comfortable wearing a special visor imbedded with full-spectrum lights under the brim, consider wearing it first thing in the morning for at least 30 minutes. If your eyes or skin are very sensitive to sunlight, this might not be a good option for you.

  2. Experiment with using a lightbox. These are sold online or in specialty stores. It may appear to be an actual box-like structure that can be propped up on a kitchen table or countertop. Generally, it is recommended that 30 minutes of daily exposure to full-spectrum light can reduce or eliminate the negative effects of SAD.

  3. Install full-spectrum light bulbs in the light fixtures and lamps that you use in the morning. The idea behind light therapy is to have early morning and end of day exposure to full-spectrum light. For those who may not want to always use a light box, consider taking a walk for 15 minutes first thing in the morning and again for 15 minutes at the end of the day before dusk.

  4. Consult with your doctor: depending on the strength of your light box, she may advise 15 minutes to start, adding a few minutes at a time to build up to even two hours. The light box is categorized by lux, a measurement of light according to the distance from its source. The light box is usually made in 2,500 to 10,000 lux types.

  5. Tip

    If you live in a very cold northern climate where the winters are long, consider using only full-spectrum light bulbs throughout your home and at the office, if possible. That continual exposure is accumulative and may be beneficial.


    According to the Mayo Clinic, light therapy may prompt a manic episode for people with severe depression or those who have bipolar disorders. Reported negative side effects include headaches, those who have skin or eyes sensitive to UV rays that some full-spectrum lights do not filter. Also ask your doctor if any of your prescription medications might make you light-sensitive.

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