Light Box Therapy at Student Health and Counseling

Student Health and Counseling has a light box available for students with Seasonal Affective Disorder.

Procedure for Using the Light Box

If you are not used to a bright light box, it is better to gradually get used to the light’s brightness. During initial sessions less light intensity and time duration is better than more.

We recommend starting light therapy by staying approximately 40 inches from the light for 30 minutes.

Over the course of a week you can move closer to the light until you are about 18 inches (you won’t ever need to get closer than this) from the light for 30 minutes. You can read or eat while sitting under the lights, but your eyes must be open for the effect to occur. You cannot sleep during your light exposure! You should NOT stare directly at the lights.

Start light therapy in the early morning, as soon as possible after awakening (between 7:00 a.m. and 9:00 a.m.). However, Student Health and Counseling will schedule appointments Monday-Friday from 9 am-Noon and from 3-5 pm.

During light therapy, you should keep to a regular sleep schedule (going to sleep and waking up at regular times, for example, 11:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m.).

Response usually starts in a few days, and by two weeks the symptoms should be definitely improving. Most people need to continue light therapy throughout the winter until the springtime. When light therapy is stopped, symptoms do not usually reappear for a few days, so most people can stop the treatment for one or two days without much problem (e.g., for the weekend).

When there is a good response to light therapy, some patients like to experiment with the timing and duration of daily light exposure, e.g., by reducing the daily exposure to 15 minutes, or using the light at a more convenient time of the day (e.g., 4:00 p.m.). We suggest making one change at a time, for 2 weeks. If symptoms start returning, go back to the original dosing schedule.

There are no reported harmful effects on the eyes with light therapy as described, but the long-term effects have not yet been studied. If you have eye problems (e.g., retinal disease, cataracts, or diabetes), or worries about eye damage, please see your doctor.

Some people experience mild headaches, nausea, dizziness, or eye strain when using the lights. These symptoms usually occur at the beginning of treatment, and get better in a few days. Otherwise, they can be relieved by reducing the daily exposure time, or by sitting slightly farther away from the lights.

Occasionally people report feeling irritable, or euphoric, or being “too high” when treated with light therapy. If this happens, the treatment should be stopped, and you should contact a psychologist in Student Health and Counseling immediately. If light therapy is restarted, use a shorter exposure time (e.g., 15 minutes per day) or sit slightly farther away from the lights. People with bipolar disorder (manic-depressive illness) should consult with a therapist or nurse practitioner in Student Health and Counseling before using light therapy.