5 Reasons You Would Need Light Therapy
1. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
SAD is a type of depression that usually begins in the late fall or early winter and resolves on its own during the spring and summer. SAD tends to be common in women, young people, and those who live far from the equator and receive fewer hours of sunlight. Symptoms of SAD may include low energy, difficulty sleeping, suicidal thoughts, and feelings of sadness, hopelessness, worthlessness, and irritability. Light therapy treats SAD by exposing diagnosed individuals to bright light that mimics sunlight and that stimulates the production of vitamin D and brain chemicals like serotonin and dopamine that improve mood.
Depression is a mood disorder characterized by symptoms including fatigue, difficulty sleeping, changes in appetite, suicidal thoughts, and feelings of sadness, emptiness, anxiety, irritability, and guilt. Light therapy can treat depression and other mood disorders just as it treats SAD: by stimulating the body’s production of vitamin D and brain neurotransmitters that play a role in regulating mood.
3. Sleep Disorders
Insomnia, hypersomnia, and other sleep disorders occur on behalf of problems with the sleep-wake cycle and natural circadian rhythm. Sleep disorders can be caused by factors such as the use of certain medications, working a night shift, having certain medical conditions, and suffering from a mental illness like depression. Light therapy can treat sleep disorders by exposing the body to light that works like natural sunlight to regulate circadian rhythm and stimulate the body’s melatonin production.
4. Jet Lag
People who travel frequently and who suffer from jet lag can use light therapy to stimulate melatonin production and appropriately shift their circadian clocks. Light therapy is shown to help people adjust to a new time zone more quickly after traveling across one or more time zones.
5. Avoid Use of Medications
Light therapy is an alternative treatment to antidepressants, antipsychotics, and other medications commonly used to treat SAD, depression, and other mood disorders. Antidepressants may produce side effects including nausea, diarrhea, headaches, insomnia, rashes, sexual dysfunction, and joint and muscle pain. Antipsychotics may produce side effects such as sedation, dry mouth, constipation, sexual dysfunction, weight gain, and seizures. Light therapy may highly appeal to those who need treatment for SAD and mood disorders but who want to avoid the use of medications.
Understanding Light Therapy
Light therapy is mainly used to treat SAD and other depressive mood disorders. Light therapy is a type of therapy in which patients sit in front of a box that emits a bright light that mimics natural sunlight. Exposure to natural sunlight induces the body’s production of vitamin D, which plays a role in the release of brain neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine that regulate mood. Light therapy exposes the skin to light that can trigger vitamin D production to reduce and treat symptoms of SAD and other depressive disorders.
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- Medline Plus. Depression. https://medlineplus.gov/depression.html
- National Library of Medicine. Bright light therapy for depression: A review of its effects on chronobiology and the autonomic nervous system. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5403163/
- Medline Plus. Sleep Disorders. https://medlineplus.gov/sleepdisorders.html
- National Library of Medicine. Light as Therapy for Sleep Disorders and Depression in Older Adults. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3839957/
- National Library of Medicine. How To Travel the World Without Jet lag. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2829880/
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- National Library of Medicine. Vitamin D and Depression: Where is all the Sunshine? https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2908269/
- National Library of Medicine. Bright light therapy: side effects and benefits across the symptom spectrum. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10584776
- Harvard Health Publishing. Bright light therapy for seasonal affective disorder. https://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletter_article/bright_light_therapy_for_seasonal_affective_disorder
- 13. Columbia University. Q&A on Bright Light Therapy. http://www.columbia.edu/~mt12/blt.htm