Light Box Therapy at Student Health and Counseling

Student Health and Counseling has "loaner" light boxes available for students concerned about Seasonal Affective Disorder

Whether you know it's an issue or you're curious if it might help, checking out a light box is a great chance to learn about its potential benefits! The loan period is 3 weeks and there is no charge for borrowing a light box. However, in the event that the unit is lost, broken, or not returned by the end of the 3 week period, students agree to replace the light box at their own expense.


Procedure for Using the Light Box

We recommend following the manufacturer’s instructions for using the light box.  Prior to using the light box from Student Health and Counseling, you are required to read the user instructions for the lightbox model you are issued.

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.

Most users benefit from daily use 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.).  It is not recommended to use light in the evening, as it may impact sleep.

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 return quickly, 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 medical provider.

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 counselor 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 medical provider in Student Health and Counseling before using light therapy.