Alternative Types of Light Therapy
Natural Spectrum Light Bulbs
Also known as full spectrum fluorescent lighting (FSFL), this product is marketed as the more “natural” alternative to traditional SAD lamps. Natural spectrum lights are made to emulate the full electromagnetic spectrum of light. These lamps can come in many forms, finishes, sizes, wattages, and voltages.
In the early 2000’s, many companies made scientific claims that FSFLs were able to treat Seasonal Affective Disorder, slow aging of the retina, and even reduce the chance of skin cancer. Unfortunately, it appears that full spectrum lights are not all they’re cracked up to be, and so far have no real support or rooting in science.
One study conducted over a 50 year period found that this type of full-spectrum lighting hasn’t shown any dramatic effects on human behavior or health. So far, other studies have shown that it takes a light emission of at least 1000 lux to treat Seasonal Affective Disorder.
However, the natural spectrum light bulbs currently on the market don’t have this same level of powerful emission. Their pleasant light may allow the user to experience better visual acuity or less tiredness, but those effects are not enough to effectively treat SAD.
Unlike a regular SAD lamp that is turned on for a short period of time during the day, dawn simulators can help you wake gently from your sleep. This acts as a sort of planned alarm clock, but the gradual increase of light, instead of noise, wakes you from your slumber. Most also have a sunsetting feature that allows you to fall asleep to a gradual light decrease.
Dawn simulators, sometimes known as “wake up lights”, have shown many benefits in their own right. These devices may allow you to sleep better and wake up more naturally in the morning. Because one symptom of SAD is difficulty sleeping, people have shown positive clinical responses to dawn simulators. However, in terms of treating SAD, dawn simulators have more mixed results.
That’s because the benefits they offer are somewhat differentiated from clinically-approved SAD usage. SAD lamps are still the most effective treatment for seasonal affective disorder. For best possible usage, you can choose to combine the two: waking up to a dawn simulator and using a SAD lamp treatment about half an hour later has been shown as the most effective SAD treatment.
Blue light has the highest amount of energy in the visible light spectrum. While blue light has traditionally come from the sun, we now consume it all the time in the form of electronics: think computers, smartphones, tablets, and TVs.
Traditional SAD lamps use bright white-light treatment instead of narrow-band blue-light treatment. However, multiple studies have found that the use of blue light treatment is equally effective in treatment for SAD as white light. Blue light to treat SAD is administered through a light-emitting diode (LED) lamp that emits narrow-spectrum blue light.
Of course, this shouldn’t be mixed up with the wrong kinds of blue light exposure right before bed. Exposure to blue light late at night suppresses the secretion of melatonin, which may influence your circadian rhythms and overall ability to sleep. Said in another way: make sure you’re getting the right kind of blue light earlier in the day, and not later.
Red Light Therapy
Red lights have the longest wavelength on the light spectrum. Red light therapy has all kinds of different names, such as:
- Photonic stimulation
- Soft laser therapy
- Low level light therapy
- Low-power laser therapy
Red light’s efficacy in a wide variety of applications (including treating SAD) has often been inconclusive. When compared to other 10,000 lux visible-spectrum studies, blue-light therapy proved superior to red-light therapy. In fact, even green light therapy has been found more effective than red light for this purpose. That’s because red light is not as successful in mediating photoreceptors in the eye that promote an antidepressant response.
Red light has gone through many studies in scientific vogue, from treatment for skin problems to helping grow plants in space. Some studies suggest that red light therapy may help promote skin healing, prevent recurring cold sores, relieve pain and inflammation, and even help with stiffness associated with rheumatoid arthritis. But for now, it’s best to take these hypotheses with a grain of salt, as findings remain inconclusive.
Overall, even though red light may seem interesting in helping with SAD, blue light and white light therapy have been proven equally more effective.
Light boxes are the best way for you to receive light therapy for SAD. Below, we’ll lead you through the best light boxes and why they work so well.