Does Light Therapy For Depression Work?

Light Therapy

In any given year, depression is thought to affect 6.7% of the population i.e. one in fifteen persons. Additionally, 1 in 6 individuals i.e. 16.6% will at some point in their lives experience depression. Although it can strike at any moment, depression typically first manifests itself in late adolescence to mid-life. Depression is more common in women than in males. According to some research, one-third of women will go through a significant depressive episode at some point in their lives.

According to research published in The National Library of Medicine, Depression scores post 40 minutes of light therapy were lower than the scores of participants receiving  20 minutes of light therapy. A form of treatment called light therapy, commonly referred to as phototherapy, involves exposure to an artificial light source. Just as depression counselling and online therapy, Light therapy has shown great efficacy in the treatment of depression.

What is Depression?

Depression, also known as Major depressive disorder, is a serious medical condition that frequently affects people’s feelings, thoughts, and behaviors. Thankfully, it is also curable. Sadness and/or a loss of interest in previous interests are symptoms of depression. It can impair your ability to perform at work and at home and cause a number of mental and physical issues.

There exist subtypes of depression. These include Prenatal depression, Postpartum depression (PPD), Psychotic depression, Seasonal affective disorder (SAD), Bipolar disorder, and Persistent depressive disorder.

Symptoms of Depression:

From mild to severe, depression symptoms might include:

  • experiencing sadness or depressed mood
  • loss of joy pleasure or interest in once-enjoyed activities
  • Appetite changes, weight loss, or increase unrelated to dieting
  • Inability to sleep or excessive sleeping
  • energy loss or increased fatigue
  • An increase in pointless movement (such as hand-wringing, pacing, or an inability to sit still) or slower speech or movement (these actions must be severe enough to be observable by others)
  • a sense of worthlessness or guilt
  • having trouble focusing, thinking, or making decisions
  • Suicidal or death-related ideas

Note*: For a diagnosis of depression, symptoms must persist for at least two weeks and must indicate a change from your pre-existing level of functioning.

What is light therapy?

The term light therapy actually refers to exposing oneself to a particular type of bright light that resembles natural outdoor light for 20 to 30 minutes each day. The standard recommendation for SAD is to hold a 10,000-lux light box 16 to 24 inches away from your face. It is advised that you keep your eyes open and avoid staring directly at the light. The time is frequently spent reading, working, or sipping coffee. The first two hours after waking up are when light therapy is most beneficial.

Light Therapy

What is it useful for?

Light therapy, sometimes referred to as bright light therapy or phototherapy is useful in treating SAD and improving mood. Additionally, different forms of depression, sleep disorders, bipolar disorders, and eating disorders can also be treated with light therapy. It can also be applied to other problems that might affect your internal clock, like overcoming jet lag or getting accustomed to a shifting work schedule at night. It has also occasionally been used to treat dementia. However, the primary mental health condition it treats is seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

Not to be confused with the form of light treatment used to treat skin diseases, this type of light therapy. In order to treat some conditions, such as psoriasis or other skin disorders, light therapy is also used, but the light source emits ultraviolet light. If you are utilising a light therapy box for mental health difficulties, it is crucial to ensure that it does not emit UV rays because, if you do not have a treatable disorder, this could harm your eyes and skin.

Does light therapy have side effects?

Light therapy is not appropriate for everyone, particularly for those who:

  • have a medical issue that makes their eyes light-sensitive
  • take drugs that make you more sensitive to light, such as certain antibiotics or antipsychotics.

If you have any of the following conditions and are thinking about this therapy, you should speak with a concerned professional:

  • skin cancer history, 
  • eye issues,  
  • sensitive skin

Caution*: Euphoria or irritation are some possible side effects that should alert users to stop using the device and consult a physician.

Even for individuals who are able to undergo light treatment, there could be negative effects. Usually, these can be overcome by varying session length, intensity, or scheduling. Some of the negative effects include:

  • headaches
  • eye strain
  • Agitation
  • irritability
  • sleep disturbances fatigue
  • hazy or blurry vision

You can talk to your therapist or doctor about these side effects, but you could also feel better by making some straightforward adjustments. To avoid sleeplessness, avoid using the lamp right before bed, and position the lightbox farther away to avoid eye strain and headaches.


Pros of light therapy

In addition to perhaps reducing the symptoms of depression, light therapy is typically simple to begin and modify based on how it makes you feel. According to Healthline, Lighting treatment is:

1. Easy to use. Rentable or buyable light boxes might be used for the treatment at home.

2. Noninvasive. Although it is not taken orally, it offers a substitute or supplement to medical interventions like drugs.

3. Safe. Light treatment is often risk-free and safe, despite the possibility of some negative effects, especially when the lamp is used inappropriately.

4. Convenient. While reading or eating breakfast at home, you can utilize a light treatment lamp. Additionally, stopping light treatment for a few days won’t have any adverse effects or cause your symptoms to come back.

Cons of light therapy

The potential side effects and consequences of light treatment are its drawbacks. These consist of:

  • headache 
  • Fatigue
  • insomnia 
  • eye strain 
  • irritability 
  • euphoria

Even if your doctor recommends a light therapy lamp, insurance may not pay for the purchase of one. Some people may find this cost to be a disincentive.

NOTE: With a light therapy lamp, it usually takes several days to see effects. The lamp must be used consistently at the same time each day in order to be useful.

What does the research say?

According to research, depression is linked to lower serotonin levels, and light therapy is a successful treatment. Benefits can actually be felt after just one session, which usually lasts between 15 and 60 minutes. According to one study, lightbox sessions should last for 40 minutes every day over the course of a few weeks, even though good effects usually start to show up after 20 minutes.

Improvements in alertness, mood, energy, attention, concentration, happiness and other depression-related markers have been observed following light therapy sessions. Additionally, light therapy is increasingly being utilized to treat various types of depression and mood disorders, with encouraging results, even though it is currently considered as exclusively for treating SAD. 

Light therapy, either by itself or in combination with the antidepressant drug fluoxetine (Prozac), was found to be beneficial for easing the symptoms of depression in a 2016 trial involving 122 people with MDD. During a 6-week trial period, a 2017 study of individuals with bipolar I or II disorder indicated that light therapy increased the rate of depression remission and decreased the risk of depression. The light therapy was used in conjunction with other treatments for bipolar disorder, and the researchers found no changes in mood polarity.

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