While getting outside into natural light is best–and comes with many other health benefits–experts agree that light therapy boxes can be effective at supporting the body’s rhythms.
Though you only need to use them for about 30 minutes a day, Seema Bonney, M.D., the founder and medical director of the Anti-Aging & Longevity Center of Philadelphia, says that they are “super helpful… That type of artificial light is just as helpful as natural light,” she tells mbg.
Functional medicine doctor Bindiya Gandhi, M.D., agrees that “they work wonderfully by resetting and improving your overall circadian rhythm. For some people during this time, their body naturally has a hard time adjusting, so this is a great alternative,” she tells mbg.
While we could still use some more rigorous research on the effectiveness of light therapy, we do have some evidence that they can support a brighter mood and better alertness and attention. Sitting in front of these lights for 20 to 30 minutes a day seems to be the sweet spot. And while it depends on your personal circadian rhythm and sleep chronotype, most people will benefit from taking in their light first thing in the morning, at the same time every day.
“Early morning exposure to bright light stimulates photoreceptors in our retinas, shutting down melatonin levels and allowing cortisol to rise. It also increases the production of serotonin–one of our feel-good hormones,” explains immunologist Heather Moday, M.D. She recommends sitting about 14 inches from the light, without looking into it directly.
Those who tend to feel an emotional dip during the onset of winter, or simply live in a dark space with limited windows, may benefit from the machines. However, Gandhi notes that it’s important to talk to your doctor before investing in one. They should be able to help you decide which type of light box is best for you and determine whether it’s just winter blues you’re feeling or something more serious and ongoing like seasonal affective disorder.