How to Make the Most of Bright Light Therapy
How to Use a SAD Lamp Effectively
Whether you’re in the market or just purchased a light therapy lamp, you may be feeling uncertain about bright light therapy, let alone how to use it. I remember when I first heard of light box therapy. I initially was a skeptic, given it sounded too good to be true. Since then, three years later, I still use my bright light therapy lamp every morning. It’s proven to be a great way to keep my sleep-wake cycle intact while starting my day off with momentum.
Not only has it become a healthy habit, but it’s also empowered my lifestyle.
SAD light therapy offers a safe and holistic approach to increasing energy levels, sleep quality, and combating conditions such as SAD, anxiety, and more. While proven to be effective, one must follow a few best practices to get the most benefits. If you’re new to light therapy, this guide can be an excellent resource for how to use a SAD lamp. Below, we'll cover the essentials, including when and how long to use light therapy, proper positioning of your lamp, how to keep track of your progress, complementary treatments, and more.
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"I have used this lamp every day for 20 days now, as soon as I wake up, for 30 minutes. I started noticing the positive affects within the first week. NO KIDDING. I felt an increase in my energy level but more importantly, I didn't feel down, my mood has definitely elevated. I would describe it as bursts of positivity throughout the day. I come home from a long day of work and am still in a good mood, I have more energy and drive to make dinner, run errands, play with the dog, etc. before, I would come home and basically collapse." -Amazon ReviewSHOP NOW
Timing: When and How Long to Sit in Front of a SAD Lamp
- Start treatment early in the morning, within an hour of waking
- Develop a light therapy schedule: Be consistent and start at the same time
- Start with 20-30 minute sessions and increase as needed
- Start early in the fall when sunlight becomes less regular
With light therapy, time of day and consistency are crucial. Incorrect or inconsistent timing can hinder your health. SAD light therapy lamps mimic sunlight, so using them at night is not a good idea unless you work a night shift. Doing so adjusts your sleep-wake cycle to being alert at night rather than during the day.
What time of day to use light therapy?
To be effective, you want to use your lamp early in the morning, when the sun is rising. We recommend doing so when the sun would be rising during summer periods. It’s best to turn your lamp on within an hour of waking for 20-30 minutes. This will trick your body into producing serotonin which will make you feel alert and awake.
It’s best to start your treatments early in the fall when cloudy days become regular. This gives your body time to produce those needed hormones to combat sun deprivation before symptoms show. If you struggle with moderate to severe seasonal affective disorder, starting early is vital to lessen/prevent symptoms before they start.
Can You Use a SAD Light too Much?
Yes, you can. Using a therapy lamp for too long, especially too late in the day, can wreak havoc on your circadian rhythm. This can lead to you having trouble falling asleep at night. When first starting, be sure to limit your SAD light therapy time to 20-30 minutes per day.
Can I Use a SAD Lamp at Night?
The only scenario where you should use a therapy lamp at night is if you work a night shift. Therapy lamps can be effective for shift work adjustment. However, you should avoid using it at night if you have a regular schedule. Doing so can cause your sleep-wake cycle to be thrown off, creating sleep troubles.
Positioning: Where to Place Your Therapy Lamp
- Make sure the light shines directly into your eyes
- If the lamp shine downwards, it should be to the top of your eyes
- Sit 16” to 24” away if the lamp produces 10,000 LUX
- You may sit further away but increase the session length
To be effective, the lamp must shine light directly into your eyes. Having the light shine indirectly may not produce any benefits or take longer than 20-30 minutes. Your eyes should be just about centered with the lamp titled at 15 degrees (if shining downwards).
If your lamp shines light from above, you want it to project light over you during treatment. It should shine light downwards into the top of your eyes. This most effectively mimics sunlight from above.
Your sitting distance will vary based on the make/model of light. If it produces 10,000 LUX, you’ll want to sit 16” to 24” from the screen. If this is uncomfortable or unattainable, you can sit further away but for a more extended period.
✔️ Correct Position
Sitting 16" to 24" from the screen with it shining directly into the eyes.
❌ Incorrect: Too Far Away
If aiming for 20-30 minutes, sitting further than 24" while not be effective. Sitting this far requires longer sessions.
❌ INCORRECT: Too Close
Sitting too close is not recommended and can be harmful to your eyes. Sitting closer than recommended does lower the needed time to gain benefits.
❌ INCORRECT: Head Down/Not Getting Direct LIGHT
Light must be shining directly into your eyes. Indirect light is not nearly as effective and may not produce any benefits.
Keep Track of Your Treatments
- It’s essential to keep track of your progress with light therapy
- Be sure to track progress in energy levels, sleep quality, and emotional well-being and any side effects
- Use our treatment tracker to note your progress
- Halt treatment and seek a doctor if you experience adverse side effects
Because the benefits are not quantifiable, it’s essential to keep track of your physical and emotional feelings when starting light therapy. This can help you decide if you need to increase session timing, tweak when you begin, or add additional health practices.
Another thing to be wary of and track are any adverse side effects. While rare, they do occur. Common side effects include:
- And irritability/agitation
Below, you’ll find a link to our treatment tracker. The tracker offers an easy and convenient way of keeping you aware of how you’re feeling. It takes into account your energy levels, sleep quality, and overall mood. Use this tracker as you go through your morning treatments and start feeling the benefits.
Download Our Light Therapy Treatment Tracker
Our treatment tracker is here to help you take notes and keep an eye on your progress during light therapy. It marks important factors, including:
- Treatment dates
- Total time spent in front of your lamp
- The estimated distance you sat in front of your lamp
- Average mood throughout the day
- Sleep quality
- And energy levels
There is also a notes section next to each date to add additional information such as if you slept enough hours, exercised, and more. Use this section to take note of any abnormalities that might impact your well-being.
Combine Other HOlistic Practices
- Light therapy is best accompanied by other healthy habits to gain benefits
- Try incorporating healthy habits such as yoga, exercise, getting outside, nutritious food, and adequate sleep
While it can help, light therapy alone is not enough to gain the benefits. Much like working out is great for your body, it’s best when accompanied by a healthy diet. Below, you’ll find a list of holistic health practices that make a great pair with light treatment.
Both yoga and meditation offer an excellent holistic method of reducing stress, increasing mindfulness, and better handling emotions. Both focus on being still and present, which is vital to lead a happy and calm lifestyle. They allow you to self-reflect and process emotions which is a core area for emotional well-being.
The mental health benefits of exercise cannot be underestimated. Exercise has been proven to lower symptoms of:
- And PTSD/trauma
Not only that, but exercise enhances the overall function of your brain. Endorphins are released, which allows you to concentrate and remember things more easily. You also sleep better, have more energy, and even can develop higher self-esteem.
Reaping the health benefits of exercise doesn’t require devoting hours of your day. It can be as little as 30 minutes broken down into smaller segments. Start with short 10 minute periods and extend it as you see fit.
Did you know humans spend 90% of their time indoors? That means less time outside, soaking up the benefits of the sun. Make an effort to get outdoors for 30 minutes each day. You can even enhance your experience by spending time in nature, which is proven to have calming effects.
Follow Sleep Best Practices
Sleep is vital to mental, physical, and emotional health. Following best sleep practices such as sleeping 7-8 hours per night, creating a healthy sleep environment, and putting away the screens an hour before bedtime can help make a significant difference in your quality of life.
Eat the Right Food
How you fuel your body matters. Substitute greasy foods high in salt and fat for those rich in essential vitamins and hormones. Try adding lean proteins, nuts, berries, and plenty of fruits and vegetables to your diet. Another option, if you’re a picky eater, is to add supplements and vitamins to your daily regimen.
Center Light Therapy Around a Morning Routine
- Morning routines are important to start the day off right
- Light therapy can be a catalyst for a good routine
- Try to center light therapy around things you typically do in the morning such as reading, watching TV, etc.
Morning routines are essential to start the day right. They can empower you to focus on your mental well-being while setting you up to be productive. Light therapy can be a great catalyst to develop one if you don’t have a morning routine. Here are a few ways you can create a morning routine centered around light therapy:
- Add light therapy to your bathroom: Adding light therapy can be a quick and easy enhancement if your morning is spent mainly in the bathroom. Try placing your lamp in an area where it can reach your eyes while getting ready.
- Morning stretches: Stretching is an excellent way of loosening up muscles and preventing injury. Stretching in front of a therapy lamp is a great way to get your day going.
- Eat a healthy breakfast: Eating breakfast gives you the well-needed nutrients to stay energized in the morning. Quench your hunger while soaking up light.
- Catch up on the news: If the news is part of your morning routine, adding light therapy is easily doable. Place your lamp at a table or wherever you typically read.
- Plan your day: If you plan your day in the morning, you might as well do so while basking in some morning light.
- Journal: Journaling is a great way to practice mindfulness and gratitude. Add light therapy into your morning journal sessions for a boost in wellness.
- Start as you begin work: Keeping a therapy lamp at work is excellent if you don’t have time for it in the morning. Start your light treatment when you get into work.
Common Mistakes to Avoid
Now that you know how to use a therapy lamp, let’s discuss a few common mistakes that minimize benefits. Below, you’ll find a list of the most common mistakes light therapy users make when using their lamps.
- Incorrect sitting distance with time: As mentioned earlier, it’s best to sit 16” to 24” from a lamp that produces 10,000 LUX. While it’s OK to sit further away, sitting in front of your light for more extended periods is essential. Doing so allows your body to soak in light so it can produce an adequate amount of serotonin. Failure to do so may prevent you from maximizing the benefits.
- Wrong angle (not letting the light hit your eyes): A typical light therapy mispractice is to sit in front of the lamp with your head angled away from it. Doing so prevents the light from shining directly into your eyes. To best mimic sunlight, the light needs to shine directly into your eyes. Make sure the lamp is in front of your face, not angled away.
- Wrong or inconsistent timing: As mentioned prior, timing plays a crucial role in the efficacy of light treatment. Using your lamp too late in the day, at a varying time, or only periodically can cause your sleep-wake cycle to get thrown off. It’s essential to be consistent and use the lamp early in the morning.
- Using a dim lightbulb: While LEDs last substantially longer than fluorescent, they dim over time. This causes the lamp not to produce as much LUX. For this reason, it’s essential to change out the bulb to get the maximum therapeutic effect.
- Not using complimenting treatments: There is no single treatment that will fix everything. For this reason, it’s crucial to have a well-rounded health routine. Your body needs essential vitamins and hormones from food, exercise, and mindfulness to perform at its true potential.
Bright light therapy can open the door to a healthier and happier life. It can be the centerpiece of a productive and momentum-shifting morning routine. Using these guidelines and best practices to properly use your light therapy lamp can empower you to maximize the benefits.
How are you incorporating light therapy into your daily routine? Let us know in the comments below!
About the Author
Brandon Landgraf is the Digital Marketing Manager for Carex Health Brands. He finds passion and fulfillment in creating content that enhances, improves, and enlivens others' quality of life. All of his written work is formulated to not only offer essential advice and tips but back it with proven studies and experts. His mission is to connect with readers and provide steps to make their lives better.
You can connect with him on LinkedIn here.
About Carex Health Brands
Carex is your one-stop shop for home medical equipment and for products that assist caregivers with providing the best possible support and care for their loved ones. Carex Health Brands has been the branded leader in in-home, self-care medical products for over 35 years. Our goal is to improve the lives of our customers by bring them quality products that bring dignity back to their lives. With our three nationally distributed brands, Carex Health Brands serves national, regional and independent food, drug and mass retailers along with wholesalers, distributors and medical dealers.
Bright light therapy is most effective when following best practices. In this guide, we cover how to use a SAD lamp including timing, placement, holistic practices to accompany treatments, and more.
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