Light boxes come in a variety of shapes and sizes, with tabletop models generally being the most convenient. One factor to consider is brightness, which is denoted by a unit of measurement called a lux. The sun has an intensity of 93,000 lux while standard household lighting is about 1,100 lux. Ultra-bright light boxes designed to counter SAD generally deliver 10,000 lux.
To practice light therapy with this type of light box, begin with 30 to 60 minutes a day in the mornings, preferably between 6:00 and 8:00 AM. Position yourself 2 to 3 feet away from the light box and continue with your normal routine – reading the newspaper, preparing breakfast, or watching television. You can set up a light box next to the breakfast table, in the bathroom, or even in front of your exercise cycle or treadmill.
If you do not experience an improvement in your symptoms, you can increase your exposure time to a maximum of two hours (longer exposure or exposure in the late evening can disrupt your sleep cycle). Although phototherapy is completely safe, people occasionally experience minor side effects such as redness or eye irritation. If this occurs, simply decrease your exposure time.
There are also appliances that provide full-spectrum light, generally with a brightness of around 2,500 lux. Full-spectrum lighting at this moderate brightness can be enjoyed throughout the day, for 10 to 12 hours at a stretch. In this type of light box, the quality of the spectrum is described by the Color Rendering Index (CRI). Natural sunlight has a CRI of 100. A standard fluorescent bulb measures 67. A good full-spectrum unit will have a CRI of 90 or better.
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