If you experience sleep disorders, the blues, or depression in the winter months, you aren’t alone, and there is an entirely rational explanation for that.
In this Senior Affair article, we visit the uses of bright light therapy and how it can help older adults by treating many conditions like:
- SAD (seasonal affective disorder)
- Sleep disorders
According to the Mayo Clinic, certain skin conditions can also be treated, such as psoriasis.
What is Seasonal Affective Disorder
When you suddenly feel sadness and low energy at certain times each year, they call this seasonal depression or (SAD).
You can beat these feelings by using a seasonal depression lamp to bring the light into your home to boost your serotonin and melatonin levels.
These lamps have been used to sleep disorders – like insomnia, jet lag, or sleeplessness. By using light therapy, you can help your natural circadian rhythm, helping you fight fatigue and restlessness.
Your body creates different hormones; let’s discuss two of them. The first, serotonin, is produced when your body is exposed to sunlight when it gets dark out. Then, the serotonin converts to melatonin, which makes you tired and maybe depressed.
What Is Bright Light Therapy?
All humans need sunlight to survive. A therapy that uses high-powered therapy lights that mimic daylight. These phototherapy lights usually provide 10,000 LUX that triggers your hormonal changes.
Why Use Bright Light Therapy?
Having these sunlight therapy lamps in your home positioned correctly and used for the appropriate amount of time can increase your melatonin levels and improve your mood, energy, sleep pattern and digestion.
What Conditions Can Bright Light Therapy Treat?
Since sunlight therapy lamps can help with hormonal imbalances in the body, you can use them to treat seasonal affective disorder, circadian rhythm disorder, ADHD, and anxiety.
Using Bright Light Lamps for Community-Dwelling Adults
This information from the National Institute of Health recommends that it’s worth trying BLT (bright light therapy) with patients in an institutional setting. They found that its use reduced nap duration and increased mood when used with social and physical activities. They note that we should pay more attention to using these lamps in this setting for mental and physical well-being.
How Can Older Adults Benefit from SAD Light Therapy?
A study shows that three weeks of using bright light therapy boxes improved depression in 54% of older adults. In addition to lifting their moods, light therapy improves sleep and optimizes serotonin.
SAD Lights Help with Sleep Problems for Older Adults
Everyone has an internal clock; this clock tells our systems when it’s time to sleep and when it’s time to wake up, according to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine also regulates body temperature.
What to Look for in a Light Therapy Lamp?
A compact shape is an excellent pick for an older adult because they are lightweight; you could quickly bring it along with you on vacation or room-to-room by having a detachable or convertible stand.
The lux is a measure of light intensity; most light therapy lamps offer 10,000 lux brightness. This research suggests that most indoor lighting only provides 100 lux, and a sunny day provides 50,000 lux.
Advanced models have multiple brightness settings or sunrise or sunset modes for gradual adjustments from day to night. People prone to light sensitivity have features to eliminate flicker, glare control, and non-white light.
If you like variety, you should choose a model with multiple settings to choose from, like adjustable dimming and brightness regardless of the time of day, location or season.
To avoid sunburn or overexposure, choose an option with a timer, or use a timer and manually time your session. Depending on your situation, following your doctor’s and the lamp manufacturer’s instructions about the recommended frequency and how long you should use it, this could be from 20 to 40 minutes in the morning, the same in the evening.
Check Out These Best Bright Light Therapy Lamps
Best for SAD: Carex Day-Light Classic Plus Light Therapy Lamp
We recommend Carex Day-Light Classic Plus Light if you experience SAD; this helps by blocking 99% of UV rays, improving sleep, and boosting mood.
It features a large light face with two brightness settings, adjustable height, and angle with a five-year warranty.
This lamp provides 10,000 lux of glare-free, LED white therapy light. It blocks 99 percent of UV rays and projects the light downward for maximum effectiveness.
With a broad surface to project the light from, the lamp provides a total dose of light from 12 inches, so you don’t have to sit right next to the lamp.
Carex designed the Daylight therapy lamp to improve sleep, boost mood, and improve your concentration. The unit stands on a pedestal.
Price – $139.99
“I have suffered from SAD for about 10 years. Ever since I moved from the East Coast to Wisconsin, I suffer from depression starting at around early October lasting until April-ish. I have tried pretty much everything I could think of, except for prescription psychotropic medication. I’ve done supplements, herbal supplements, homeopathy, consistent exercise throughout the entire winter, dietary changes (several different types over the years, and even a Philips GoLite Blue. The blue light never worked, no matter how consistent I was. NOTHING worked. I should note that I was never dangerously depressed, but just “blah” from Fall to Spring.
I finally caved and saw my GP and discussed my depression. Though he initially wanted to put me on prescription medications, I expressed my concerns and that I’d be willing to try ANYTHING first prior to prescription medications, if he could think of anything. He mentioned giving light therapy a try. I got a prescription for a lightbox and contacted my durable medical equipment provider.
It didn’t work out with insurance and I wasn’t able to get it through them, but I did learn of what they were going to give to me with a doctor’s order, and I tracked it down on Amazon. I ended up purchasing this privately because I was starting to feel the depression coming on. I literally felt AMAZING within about 3 days. The following week, I really noticed the change when I was driving with the sunroom open on a sunny day, and found that I was actually smiling for no reason, just smiling taking in the beauty of the day and weather! I haven’t felt that good in years!
Since then, I’ve used it since 9/21/16, about 2 months. I notice that when I take several days off, I feel my mood shift. I also noticed that it reset my sleep pattern literally within 2 days. I don’t need an alarm clock to wake up now. If I use my lamp at 5 AM, I literally awaken at 5 AM whether I want to or not. This is great for consistency for work, but bad on weekends when I want to sleep in. Also bad for nights I stay up late for something because I’m up at 5 AM regardless! Stay up to 1 AM playing video games, I’m up at 5 AM! Kinda sucks, but I can’t fault the machine for that… It’s also large, and you will need a sturdy place to keep it because it’s heavy too. But it needs to be big I believe to work effectively. I wish it had less plastic around the base and more metal. It’s already heavy, so I could deal with a little more if it were all metal. I also wish it used LEDs instead of old-school fluorescent lights. But maybe LEDs wouldn’t be as effective? My blue light was small and LED (still bright though), but it wasn’t effective…
I would HIGHLY recommend this for Seasonal Affective Disorder/Major Depression. This literally saved my life and marriage, and I’m finding life up north bearable now, versus dreading it every Fall. Avoid the smaller lamps, and those gimmick blue lights. They do nothing.”
Carex Theralite Radiance Light Therapy Lamp
This SAD light therapy light has all the tech options – an alarm clock, wireless charging station, and a USB port. It’s small and portable and provides the recommended 10,000 lux. It has four light settings, can also be used as a desk lamp, and could help with sleep disorders like insomnia. You can get more info here.
5.0 out of 5 stars It’s been the best thing for my SADness. I wish I hadn’t waited until now to get one.
“I wish I had bought this so many years ago. I was so skeptical at first. Was like, meh, if nothing else, it’ll be an extra lamp.
I live in the cold Midwest where it’s now dark when I go to work and when I leave. My office is in the middle of the building with no sunshine whatsoever. Every year around this time, my coffee intake increases from none in the summer to a very large amount when the spring brings more light.
Normally, I drink 20+ oz of heavy-duty cold press coffee, a day, at least (roughly the equivalent to 20 oz of espresso)!
The day I got it, I used it & it was as if I drank all of my coffee straight away, minus the jitters and anxiety, in reality, I drank about 4 oz, BEFORE I used the light.
It’s freaking wonderful!
Now, it takes me a whole week to MAYBE drink 20oz.
My overall SADness has seemed to disappear.
I thought it was a fluke so I continued to use it and the results are the same! I wish I had one at home for the weekends.”
Frequently Asked Questions
- Will a SAD Sun Lamp Actually Make You Happy?. Health Essentials from Cleveland Clinic.
- Jurvelin H, Takala T, Nissilä J, et al. Transcranial bright light treatment via the ear canals in seasonal affective disorder: A randomized, double-blind dose-response study. BMC Psychiatry. 2014;14:288. doi:10.1186/s12888-014-0288-6
- M.D MCM. Seasonal affective disorder: bring on the light, Harvard Health Blog.
- Pail G, Huf W, Pjrek E, et al. Bright-light therapy in the treatment of mood disorders. Neuropsychobiology. 2011;64(3):152-62. doi:10.1159/000328950
- Seasonal affective disorder: using light therapy | Michigan medicine.
- Okawa M. [Bright light therapy for elderly]. Nihon Rinsho. 2015 Jun;73(6):997-1005. Japanese. PMID: 26065132.