Jefferson University Hospitals

Light Therapy

Light therapy is a method used to treat sleep disorders, seasonal affective disorder (SAD), circadian rhythm disorders, depression and other conditions. It involves exposure to artificial light from a device for a specific and regular length of time. Sleep medicine specialists and psychiatrists at Jefferson are highly skilled in light therapy.

What Types of Devices Mimic Natural Outdoor Light?

Artificial light affects your body clock in the same way that sunlight does. There are several different types of devices that mimic natural outdoor light, including:

  • Light box – the most popular light therapy product. You sit near the light box as it produces bright light.
  • Desk lamp – similar to a light box, it can be placed on a desk at your office to provide you with artificial light.
  • Light visor – worn on your head and over your eyes so that you can move around during your therapy.
  • Dawn simulator – these lights are meant to mimic a sunrise, gradually making a dark room brighter so as to wake up easily.

How is Light Therapy Used to Treat Seasonal Affective Disorder?

Light therapy is the primary form of therapy and the first choice at Jefferson for treating SAD. The good news about light therapy is that it generally works very quickly and its side effects, if any, are easily managed. Patients who initiate this therapy often see some change in three or four days and very robust changes within two weeks or so.

Patients are asked to use the desk lamps for about 30 minutes in the morning, prior to sunrise. Thus, in effect they are increasing the duration of the day for themselves.