Light therapy is a unique tool that can be used for a variety of purposes.
I’ve personally used it for years and have found it to be a wonderful addition to my health and healing protocol.
Here we will explore what light therapy is, its many uses and health benefits, and some of the best light therapy devices.
Some of the links in this article are affiliate links. This means that if you click the link and subsequently make a purchase on the merchant’s website, we may earn a small commission at absolutely no additional cost to you. All opinions are entirely my own.
What is Light Therapy?
Light therapy (also sometimes referred to as heliotherapy, phototherapy, circadian light therapy, light exposure therapy, or bright light therapy) is the therapeutic use of artificial light to mimic the physiological effects of natural sunlight exposure.
As we will discuss further below, exposure to the sun has many important health benefits.
Light exists on a spectrum, as seen in the image below. Light therapy devices can produce a broad spectrum of light, similar to this complete spectrum that is produced by the sun. Only a portion of the light produced by the sun is seen as visible light, while the remaining portions are felt as heat.
Various physiological functions are stimulated via different forms of light produced by the sun, including vitamin D and intracellular melatonin production. This is explained further below.
Light therapy devices mainly include light boxes and sunlamps of various sizes and levels of light intensity.
These are usually used for a certain amount of time each day, from a certain distance.
Light therapy is of particularly helpful use in geographical locations that do not typically receive a great deal of sunlight throughout the year, such as the Pacific Northwest of the US and many European countries.
It is also often used during the fall and winter months when there is typically less sunlight.
Health Benefits of Natural Sunlight Exposure
There has been a great degree of recognition for the adverse impacts of excessive sun exposure to our health, which is of course very valid. Excessive sun exposure is not recommended and can have many negative health effects.
However, little attention has been given to the health benefits of sun exposure and how it plays an integral role in maintaining the optimal physiological function of the human body.
It is all about moderation, as all of the health benefits of natural sun exposure can be obtained from about 20 to 30 minutes of exposure to your skin per day.
Some of the important health benefits of natural sun exposure include:
- Serotonin Production
Serotonin of often referred to as the “feel good” neurotransmitter (“chemical messengers” in the body), because it plays a big role in regulating mood, emotions, learning, memory, digestion, appetite, energy levels, and more.
Serotonin is made in the gut and in the brain.
The sun plays a part in signaling its production in the brain. When sunlight enters through our eyes, it signals the brain to produce serotonin.
Melatonin is a hormone that plays a large role in the sleep/wake cycle, which is part of the circadian rhythm of the body (explained further below). It is also anti-inflammatory, serves as an antioxidant (explained further here), supports gut health by maintaining gut lining integrity, and is involved in immune system regulation.
A large portion of our body’s melatonin is made inside the mitochondria (structures within our cells that convert energy from food into usable cellular energy) in response to near-infrared radiation from the sun, with the remaining amount being made in the pineal gland within the brain.
The form of melatonin that is made in the brain increases at night, in response to darkness, and helps to initiate sleep.
The form of melatonin that is made intracellularly increases as a result of exposure to the sun. It then serves as an antioxidant inside the cell, as the process of producing cellular energy (as described above) produces free radicals which must be neutralized to protect the body from their adverse effects. Melatonin serves this purpose.
- Vitamin D Production
Vitamin D, while called a “vitamin,” is actually a steroid hormone that plays many important roles in the body. It is required for immune function, nervous system function, bone, heart, and muscle health, growth & development, and much more. Vitamin D is also needed for proper calcium absorption.
The majority of our vitamin D is produced within the body as a result of exposure to UVB radiation from the sun, with a minority being acquired via food (such as fish and egg yolks) or supplementation.
Direct skin exposure is needed for this process to occur optimally.
- Increases Nitric Oxide Levels
Nitric oxide is a compound that is produced within the body that serves important physiological functions.
Nitric oxide dilates blood vessels to increase circulation, support heart health, and lower blood pressure. It also stimulates the release of insulin (which helps to regulate blood sugar) and human growth hormone. It is also involved in neurotransmitter metabolism and nervous system health.
When the skin is exposed to the sun, nitric oxide is released into the blood.
Light Therapy Uses
Some of the specific uses for light therapy include:
There are many forms of chronic illness (explained further here) that involve extreme fatigue and mobility impairment, especially severe cases of chronic illness.
This can mean that the individual is not able to be active outside of their home to a considerable degree, meaning their sun exposure is dramatically reduced.
Because sun exposure is so important to our health, using light therapy to make up for this lack of exposure can be very helpful in the healing process.
Some can experience a seasonal depressive condition that is sometimes referred to as “seasonal affective disorder.”
This condition can occur during the fall and winter months, when there is less natural sunlight. Women tend to experience seasonal depression at higher rates than men.
A form of seasonal depression can also be experienced by those who live in geographical locations that do not have a great deal of sunlight year-round, such as the Pacific Northwest of the US or some European countries.
Symptoms can be mild to severe and can include:
- Low mood/persistent sadness
- Chronic fatigue
- Changes in appetite
- Weight fluctuations
- Inability to focus
Light therapy devices help to make up for this lack of sunlight and have shown to improve the symptoms associated with seasonal depression considerably.
As touched on above, your circadian rhythm is the 24 hour schedule that your body operates on. When balanced, the circadian rhythm is closely linked to the natural rise and fall of the sun.
Part of the circadian rhythm is the sleep/wake cycle. The body is prompted to prepare for rest once the sun sets, and is awakened to be prepared for activity when the sun rises.
The rising and falling of the sun signals physiological responses within the body to initiate each part of this cycle.
For example, as mentioned above, when the sun sets, melatonin production increases, which prepares the body for sleep.
Our circadian rhythm can be thrown off from various causes such as chronic stress, systemic inflammation, working third shift, frequent changes in the times you go to sleep and wake up, brain trauma, various medications, using blue light devices (computers, smartphones, etc) before bed, and other factors.
This can cause insomnia, or the inability to fall asleep and stay asleep at night.
Light therapy can be used to essentially “reset” your circadian rhythm, which in turn helps your body regain its ability to follow this natural cycle. This often alleviates insomnia.
- To receive the health benefits of sun exposure as outlined above
As explained above, light therapy is used as a way of mimicking sun exposure, and henceforth acquiring all of the health benefits of such exposure.
The Best Light Therapy Devices
Alaska Northern Lights North Star 10,000 Light Box
By far, my favorite light therapy device that I’ve used is the Alaska Northern Lights North Star 10,000. I’ve had mine for about 3 years and I’ve used it almost every day since I received it.
This light box includes broad spectrum bulbs that mimic sun exposure without ultraviolet rays.
The bulbs in light boxes are categorized based on their intensity level/light output, or “lux,” also sometimes referred to as the illuminance level, per square meter. This is essentially how bright the bulb is.
These bulbs are 10,000 lux, which is considered very high for a light box, and is equivalent to an ambient light from the sun.
It can be used both horizontally or vertically. I’ve used mine horizontally the most, as I have it placed on a desk that stands about waist high.
The high lux rating of these bulbs is obtained from a 2 foot distance, which is a further distance than most other light boxes, and allows for more comfortable use.
Use: It is super easy to use, as you simply place it in a good location, plug it into a wall outlet, turn it on, and then remain about 2 feet away for approximately 30 minutes per day. You should position your face so it is mainly facing the light box, but do not look directly at the light for any length of time.
It is best to only use light boxes shortly after waking up in the morning (within 30 to 60 minutes) or at some point in the morning in order to promote a balanced circadian rhythm.
This device comes with a 7 year warranty.
Click here to check out the North Star 10,000.
⭐️You may use the code HJE10 at checkout for 10% off your purchase at Alaska Northern Lights. This discount will be on top of any sale that Alaska Northern Lights may be offering at the time of purchase :)⭐️
Alaska Northern Lights also offers a combination where you can purchase 2 North Star 10,000 light boxes for a reduced price. Click here to access this offer.
Sperti Vitamin D Sunlamp
The Sperti Vitamin D Sunlamp device provides UVB rays that help to naturally generate vitamin D within the body.
Sunlamps provide similar health benefits as light boxes, yet they differ in that they provide the UVB rays needed to catalyze vitamin D production.
This sunlamp comes with 4 preinstalled bulbs that have approximately a 1,000 hour lifespan.
When used as recommended, the bulbs will last about 15 years.
Use: It is recommended to use the vitamin D lamp for 5 minutes, every other day. This device is placed onto a sturdy surface (it weights around 15 pounds), plugged into a wall outlet, and turned on to use. There is a timer that can be set to your desired time and it will shut off automatically when the set time has elapsed.
Protective eye wear is also included with this sunlamp.
It is important to only use this sunlamp for the short recommended time.
It also comes with a 7 year warranty.
Physicians will often recommend this device for those who are vitamin D deficient and/or have limited sun exposure for various reasons. A prescription is not required.
Click here to check out the Vitamin D Sunlamp.
⭐️You may use the code HJE10 at checkout for 10% off your purchase at Sperti. This discount will be on top of any sale that Sperti may be offering at the time of purchase :)⭐️
Sauna Space Full-Spectrum Infrared Sauna
A top quality full-spectrum infrared sauna that uses a specialized incandescent light panel primarily focused on red and near infrared light wavelengths is also an effective form of light therapy.
Sauna Space at-home, portable infrared saunas use a technology called ThermaLight which very closely mimics the sun to provide a combined form of both heat and light therapy.
Along with all of the benefits of light therapy, heat therapy is also a helpful healing tool that reduces inflammation, encourages detoxification, supports mental & emotional health, supports heart health, blood flow, and more.
Much more on these specialized saunas can be found here.
As we’ve explored here, light therapy is a unique therapeutic tool that can be used for a variety of purposes and healing needs.
If you live in a geographical location that does not receive a great deal of sunlight, have a vitamin D deficiency, experience seasonal depression, or are healing from a chronic illness, light therapy is certainly a healing tool to consider.