Light Therapy

Bright Photo of UC Berkeley

Free Light Therapy for the UC Berkeley Community! 

Light therapy is offered free of charge to students at UHS, on the 2nd floor, across from the massage chairs.

Light therapy has typically been used to treat conditions like Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), however, it can also be used to address other issues such as:

  • Mild to moderate depression
  • Jet lag
  • Mid-day fatigue

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How does Light Therapy work?

Light therapy lamps work by imitating natural sunlight. It is speculated that conditions like Seasonal Affective Disorder can be caused by less sunlight in the morning and evening which occur more often during the Fall, Winter, and early Spring. Therefore, morning exposure to sunlight or a bright light source through a light therapy lamp can help “extend” morning sunlight exposure and reduce some of the impact of various issues such as SAD. (Rosenthal, 1998) 

Per the Mayo Clinic, “Light therapy is thought to affect brain chemicals linked to mood and sleep, easing seasonal affective disorder (SAD) symptoms, increase your mood and energy levels”.

It is recommended that people who start light therapy begin with a shorter amount of exposure to light, preferably 15 minutes a day for a week. This can then be extended to longer periods of time, up to 30-45 minutes a day. While sitting near or in front of the lamp, have the lamp cast its light down on you. There is no need to look directly into the light. You can read, work on a laptop, or just rest. In order for light therapy to be effective, the light must enter your eyes indirectly. 

How to use Light Therapy?

  • Light therapy is most effective when it is done in the morning; however, benefits can still be gained by using light therapy during other times of the day, such as for midday fatigue.
  • When you first begin light therapy, it is recommended to start with shorter blocks of time, such as 10-15 minutes. You can gradually increase your time to longer sessions, such as 30 minutes. If you are finding it difficult to find any effects from sessions, you can break up your sessions into multiple sessions throughout the day.
  • Light therapy is most effective with consistency. For some individuals, light therapy will be most effective on a daily basis; for others, light therapy may be appropriate only several times a week.

Potential side effects

Light therapy has been shown to be typically safe. However, side effects can occur. If they do, they typically are mild and can fade within several days of starting light therapy. Side effects can also be managed by reducing light therapy time or moving further away from the lamp.  

Typical side effects may include: 

  • Eye Strain
  • Headaches
  • Nausea

When to use caution and/or consult your primary care doctor/clinician: 

It’s generally recommended to speak to your doctor or primary care clinician any time you start a new treatment, however, it is especially important if you have:

  • Any conditions that cause skin sensitivity to light
  • Medications that increase skin sensitivity to light (certain antibiotics, anti-inflammatories, St. John’s Wort, etc.)
  • Eye conditions that are sensitive to light
  • History of or current diagnosis of bipolar disorder


female student reading a book while using light therapy lamp