Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of clinical depression that regularly occurs in the winter, with normal mood in the summer. Light therapy is an effective and safe treatment for SAD. Other treatments for depression (for example, antidepressant medications, cognitive behavioural therapy) are also effective. Self-diagnosis or self-treatment of SAD is not recommended because there are other medical causes for depressive symptoms, and because light therapy may be harmful to people with certain medical conditions (for example, retinal eye disease). See your doctor first!
Although light therapy is effective for SAD, we still do not fully understand how the light works and what is the best method for light therapy. There are now many light therapy devices available on the market making claims about light treatment, but light therapy devices are not well regulated in Canada. Therefore, we believe it is wise to be cautious about recommending light therapy devices.
Our recommendations are based on the following principles:
- the light device should be tested and found effective in scientifically valid studies
- the light device should have a filter that blocks harmful ultraviolet rays
- the light device should be CSA approved for use in Canada (UL approved for use in the US)
- the light device company should have a track record of reliability
We recommend fluorescent light boxes because they have been extensively tested with the greatest evidence for effectiveness in scientific studies, and we have experience with these devices. Other light devices, for example light emitting diode (LED) devices, light visors and dawn simulators, may be helfpul for some patients but there is less evidence for effectiveness compared to light boxes.
Most light devices use white light. Narrow-band blue-light devices are probably effective, but have not been as extensively tested as white-light devices. There is no indication that blue light is better than white light for SAD, and there is no information on long term safety of blue light devices (unlike white light devices).
We have NO direct financial interest in any companies listed below, nor can we take any responsibility for their products.
- Shoppers Drug Mart carries a range of light devices.
- Clinical Sleep Solutions, 1-866-432-9271.
- VitalAire, 604-881-0214.
Direct order Canadian light box companies (and U.S. CSA approved light box companies):
- Day-Lights (Carex Health Brands), Halifax, NS
Tel: 1-902 422-0804 / 1-800-387-0896
- Northern Light Technologies, St. Laurent, PQ
Tel: 1-514-335-1763 / 1-800-263-0066
- Litebook Company, Medicine Hat, AB
- Bio-Brite Inc., Bethesda, MD (CSA approved devices)
- Enviro-Med, Portland, OR (CSA approved devices)
Does your health benefits insurance company cover the cost of light boxes?
Check here for help.