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Drexel Library

Light Therapy at Drexel University

Background and use instructions for Light Boxes used to treat Seasonal Affective Disorder

Winter Blues? Try Light Therapy!

The Drexel University Counseling Center and the Drexel University Libraries are excited to announce the launch of the Light Box Therapy Program for all Drexel University students. Several HappyLight® Therapy Lamps are now available at the W. W. Hagerty Library Service Desk. Lamps can be checked out for 30 minutes; no reservations are needed at this time.

Light therapy is one way to help treat Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a common form of depression associated with the lack of natural light during the winter months.  Common symptoms include increased sleep, increased appetite, weight gain, craving starchy and sweet foods high in carbohydrates, depressed mood, and low energy. Symptoms can also vary per person. 

What is Light Therapy?

During light therapy, you sit near a device called a light therapy box. The box gives off bright light that mimics natural outdoor light. Light therapy is thought to affect brain chemicals linked to mood and sleep and helps ease the symptoms of SAD.

How do you use Light Therapy?

  • Light therapy requires time and consistency. You should notice a response within a few days. Symptoms should improve within two weeks.
  • It is best to utilize the light therapy lamps daily for approximately 30 minutes each day. If this is not possible, a regular routine is best (e.g.  every other day).

  • Use light therapy in the morning, as soon as possible after waking. A 3:00 p.m. cutoff is recommended for those who go to bed between midnight and 1:00 a.m. For those who go to bed between 10:00 p.m. - 11:30 p.m., we recommend a 12:00 p.m. cutoff time.  

  • During light therapy, you should keep to a regular sleep schedule.

  • Project the light toward your eyes at an angle to minimize averse visual glare.

  • To be effective, light from the light box must enter your eyes directly. You cannot get the same effect merely by exposing your skin to the light. Sleeping with the light box on will not be effective. During light therapy sessions, you can still read, use a computer, write, talk on the phone, or eat.

  • Any student who is currently taking medication that can cause photosensitivity (common examples include tetracycline, erythromycin) should check with a medical provider before using light therapy.

Risks of Light Therapy

Light therapy is generally safe and does not require a prescription to use. If side effects occur, they are usually mild and short lasting. Some people experience mild headaches, nausea, dizziness, or eye strain when using the light box. These symptoms usually occur at the beginning of treatment and get better in a few days. These symptoms 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 using light therapy. People with bipolar disorder should consult with a therapist or medical provider before using light therapy.

While your eyes must be open, do not look directly at the light box. While there are no reported harmful effects on the eyes when light thereapy is used as recommended, but the long-term effects have not yet been studied. If you have eye problems (e.g., retinal disease, cataracts, or diabetes) or worry about eye damage, please consult your medical provider.

Light therapy is only one means to treat depression brought on by Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Please consult a mental health professional or other healthcare provider if you have concerns.

This program is provided in collaboration with the Drexel University Libraries. Thank you to the Drexel Fund donors for funding these light boxes.  

Setting Up the HappyLight Therapy Lamp

1. Plug in the HappyLight Therapy Lamp

  • Place the lamp on a flat, level surface
  • Insert the power adapter plug into the adapter socket
  • Plus the adapter into a standard electrical outlet
  • Turn on the lamp using the power button located on the top of the lamp

2. Take the Device Pretest

  • To help you determine your degree of sensitivity to light, the manufacturer recommends taking the pretest upon first use of the device. View the pretest on page 7 of the online user manual. Print instructions are also included with each device.

3. How to Use the Light - Brightness

  • The HappyLight Therapy Lamp includes touch controls so you can customize your light therapy experience.
  • Use the touch control button to choose between three different brightness levels to find the level that is comfortable for you.
  • Note: increasing brightness will deliver your daily dose of healthy light ore quickly, which results in shorter light therapy sessions.

4. Positioning the HappyLight Therapy Lamp

  • Sit close to the HappyLight Therapy Lamp with your eyes open. The lamp should be positioned as close as 6 includes but within 24 inches of your face. It is most effective when positioned slightly off center.
  • The light from the lamp must be directed at your eyes; therefore, your eyes must be open to achieve the full benefit.
  • DO NOT look directly at the lamp.

Instructions are included with each HappyLumi Therapy Lamp and are also available online. 

This program is provided in collaboration with the Drexel University Libraries. Thank you to the Drexel Fund donors for funding these light boxes.