Before I discuss light therapy, I must admit that about ten years ago, I read about seasonal affective disorder, and my mother bought me a $250 light box, which I religiously tried. My psychiatrist at the time didn't agree that I might be suffering from SAD, even though my depressions were clearly seasonal and had been for more than 25 years. I went ahead and pursued light therapy, although it didn't end up working for me. At the time I thought my doctor must have been right since the light box didn't make a difference.
If I had known then what I know now, I would have realized there were other alternatives to a light box--all of which I'm doing now. I should have spent more time outdoors. I should have changed the blinds in our bedroom to allow for more morning light. I should have opened all the blinds in our house each morning so that when I awakened, the house was lighter.
So, I guess what I'm saying is that light therapy is a far-reaching topic. If you think SAD might be a problem, it's worth discussing with your doctor. However, whether or not your doctor knows about SAD, I highly recommend reading Dr. Norman Rosenthal's book: Winter Blues: Everything You Need to Know to Beat Seasonal Affective Disorder.
In terms of light therapy, light boxes do work for a significant part of the SAD population. A dawn simulator, which can be attached to any incandescent lamp so that it starts working while you're still sleeping, has been shown to have a big effect when you wake up. Some people use both the dawn simulator and light box in the morning and also at night to create an artificial dusk.
In Sweden, there are at least 80 light therapy rooms, at least there were when Dr. Rosenthal checked them out before his book was published. In these public rooms, people are exposed to 2,500-lux-intensity light in any direction. The rooms are a light color and so is the carpeting and furniture.
Again, if SAD is a problem for you, the idea would be to try and recreate this kind of environment in your own home. I have always thought our home was light, but we made the fairly minor changes I mentioned above, and I can feel the difference.
Some people who live in geographic areas which exacerbates their condition have made more dramatic changes. They have moved across the country in order to live where there is more sunshine. There are others who take vacations in winter so they can spend time in a lighter environment. But no matter what the climate, most people find it's very important to spend time outside each and every day, because outside light is so very important.
And light therapy isn't just important for people who have SAD. Dr. Rosenthal writes, "Our group and others have found that sub-groups of patients with eating disorders, obsessive compulsive disorder, panic disorder, and schizoaffective disorder show a degree of seasonal variation, with symptoms worsening during the winter. It would be reasonable to consider light therapy for people suffering from these conditions."
Whether you need to make a big change or small ones, if you're like me you will immediately see a difference. I am convinced that one of the key reasons I feel well most of the time is because I realized that whether or not I suffer from SAD, being outside and increasing the level of light in our house is a key wellness activity for me.
P.S. The graphics are examples of a light box and dawn simulator. I'm not recommending any products because I haven't used them, but if you check out Dr. Rosenthal's site, he has links.