Light Therapy for a Quick Fix

Seasonal affective disorder patients may find quick relief with bright light therapy

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

(RxWiki News) Using bright light therapy for seasonal affective disorder has been done for a while now. But researchers suggest that light therapy can help in as little as an hour.

A recent study puts bright light therapy for seasonal affective disorder to the test. One hour in front of the bright light did lower depression scales enough to be considered useful.

"Ask your doctor which lamp would work best for you."

Gloria M. Reeves, MD, assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, led a research team to look into ways to improve depression in people with seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

SAD is a form of depression that happens based on the effects of a particular season. Most cases are sparked by the confines of winter or continual rainy seasons, but oppressive summer seasons can also be the cause.

Symptoms mirror those of regular depression and treatments are often the same too. The most notable difference is light therapy.

Dr. Reeves and her team were looking for a rapid-fire way to nip the depressive symptoms of SAD in the bud. For the study the researchers split the cohort into two groups. The test group sat in front of bright light therapy for an hour and the control group sat in front of a dim red light for an hour.

Depression was measured before and after each therapy session, as well as before and after the entire study.

Authors stated, “A significant but modest improvement was detected after a single active light session. This is the first study, to our knowledge, to document an immediate improvement with light treatment using a placebo-controlled with a clinical sample of depressed individuals.”

Self-reported depression was measured on the Profile of Mood States-Depression-Dejection subscale. There are 15 questions with five possible answers ranging from 0-4 with a possible 0-60 point outcome. People in the bright light group reported an average -1.2 point reduction in depression after their sessions.

The Beck Depression Inventory II scale was also used. It has 21 questions with four possible responses ranging from 0-3 with a possible 0-63 point outcome. People in the bright light group reported an average -1.3 point reduction in depression after their bright light sessions.

While these reductions were not drastic, they were achieved after sessions of only an hour of sitting in front of a bright light.

This study was published in the Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, January 2012. No financial information was given and no conflicts of interest were found.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
June 23, 2012
Last Updated:
November 20, 2012