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How to Use Sunlamps for Depression

By James Roland ; Updated August 14, 2017

A type of depression known as seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, may be treated effectively with light therapy. People affected by SAD usually develop the condition in the fall or winter, and often in northern areas where exposure to sunlight is limited during that time of year. Light therapy involves the use of a special sun lamp or light box that replicates sunlight, which in turn may affect chemicals in the brain that affect mood.

  1. Find the right light box for you. They can be purchased in medical device stores, some large department stores or online. These special sun lamps may be covered by your insurance. The main difference between light boxes is the light intensity, usually between 2,500 and 10,000 lux; your doctor can advise you on what type to use for your specific needs.

  2. Be prepared to spend anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours near your light box each day. The greater the intensity, the shorter the duration of your treatment. Your doctor may also advise you to spend about 15 minutes a day at first and slowly build up more time with the treatment.

  3. Position the light box in an area where you can spend time doing normal activities, such as eating breakfast, reading, working on your computer or even watching TV. Some light boxes can be placed on a kitchen table or side table near a couch. Stay within a couple of feet of the light for the duration of your day's treatment.

  4. Wear comfortable clothes. There's no need for special clothing, and you can even wear eyeglass or contact lenses. Sunglasses, however, diminish the effectiveness of the therapy as the idea is for light to enter the eyes and signal the brain to release chemicals that boost your mood and energy levels.

  5. Tilt the light box accordingly if the angle is providing too much glare. The light should be bright, but not uncomfortable for your eyes.

  6. Tip

    Pay attention to your symptoms and be sure to tell your doctor in follow-up visits whether you've experienced any improvement or side effects from the sunlamp therapy. Exercise early in the day to help give you the energy you need and the mood boost that will complement the time spent in front of the sun lamp.


    Don't look directly at the light from the light box, as it is very bright and can cause eye problems. You may experience mild headaches and/or nausea at first, but these side effects should dissipate soon. Your particular condition will dictate the type of light and duration of treatment as every individual patient's treatment is unique, so be sure to consult a doctor before starting light therapy.

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