Why it's done

You may want to try light therapy for a number of reasons:

  • Your doctor recommends it for seasonal affective disorder or another condition.
  • You want to try treatment that is safe and has few side effects.
  • You want to increase the effectiveness of antidepressant medication or mental health counseling (psychotherapy).
  • You need to avoid antidepressant medications during pregnancy or while breast-feeding.
  • It may allow you to take a lower dose of antidepressant medication.

Conditions it's used for

Light therapy is used as a treatment for several conditions, including:

  • SAD
  • Types of depression that don't occur seasonally
  • Jet lag
  • Sleep disorders
  • Adjusting to a nighttime work schedule
  • Dementia

Light therapy used to treat skin conditions such as psoriasis is different from the type of light therapy used for the conditions listed above. Light therapy for skin disorders uses a lamp that emits ultraviolet (UV) light. This type of light should be filtered out in light therapy boxes used for SAD and other conditions because it can damage your eyes and skin.

March 19, 2016
References
  1. AskMayoExpert. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Rochester, Minn.: Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research; 2015.
  2. Martensson B, et al. Bright white light therapy in depression: A critical review of the evidence. Journal of Affective Disorders. 2015;182:1.
  3. Lam RW, et al. Efficacy of bright light treatment, fluoxetine, and the combination in patients with nonseasonal major depressive disorder: A randomized clinical trial. JAMA Psychiatry. 2016;73:56.
  4. Racz E, et al. Phototherapy and photochemotherapy for psoriasis. Dermatologic Clinics. 2015;33:79.
  5. Van Maanen A, et al. The effects of light therapy on sleep problems: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Sleep Medicine Reviews. 2016;29:52.
  6. Avery D. Seasonal affective disorder: Treatment. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed Feb. 8, 2016.
  7. Sanassi LA. Seasonal affective disorder: Is there light at the end of the tunnel? JAAPA. 2014;27:18.
  8. Melrose S. Seasonal affective disorder: An overview of assessment and treatment approaches. Depression Research and Treatment. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4673349/. Accessed Feb. 8, 2016.
  9. Kurlansik SL, et al. Seasonal affective disorder. American Family Physician. 2012;86:1037.
  10. O'Leary RE, et al. Update on tanning: More risks, fewer benefits. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. 2014;70:562.
  11. Seasonal affective disorders (SAD) — Treatment. NHS Choices. http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Seasonal-affective-disorder/Pages/Treatment.aspx. Accessed Feb. 15, 2016.
  12. Hall-Flavin DK (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. Feb. 15, 2016.