Light Therapy

Background:

Some people get symptoms of depression at the same time each year. This is more common during the winter months when the days are shorter. I am interested in how bright light therapy is effective for seasonal affective disorder. One of my questions was to see if this would be effective for treating non-seasonal depression as well. The evidence seems to point to yes.

This is another treatment that can easily be added to antidepressant medications. There are minimal side effects. Eye strain and headaches can occur. Lightboxes are usually well tolerated. “Lux” is how brightness is measured. Getting a 10,000 lux box is what most trials seem to use. Using the lightbox for 30 minutes is ideal.

Effectiveness:

(1) A trial was conducted to review the effects of bright light therapy in patients with major depressive disorder. 122 patients were randomized to receive light therapy, Fluoxetine 20mg, a combination of light and Fluoxetine and the final group received a placebo. The combination group and light group had significantly improvements in their symptoms of depression. The mean decrease in the MADRS scale was more than 12 points for light therapy and more than 16 points in the combination group. Fluoxetine monotherapy was not significantly superior to placebo. All treatments were well tolerated.

(2) A systemic review was conducted. 15 reports were reviewed assessing light therapy in nonseasonal depression. The first group of studies looked at light therapy in seasonal versus nonseasonal depression. They report a stronger effect of light therapy in treating seasonal depression as compared to nonseasonal depression. The second group compared placebo to light therapy in nonseasonal depressed patients without antidepressants. Bright light was more effective in reducing depression as compared to the placebo dim light therapy. The third group looked at adding light therapy vs placebo light to patients already receiving antidepressants. 4 out of 5 of these trials showed positive results in the light therapy group in addition to antidepressants.

My experience: 

I was able to find my Circadian Optics Light on Amazon. I do not get eye strain or headaches from my light box. I use the light box for less than the recommended 30 minutes. I use my box as I eat breakfast in the morning, so usually for around 10 minutes. I feel awake afterwards. This is so easy to do that it makes a lot of sense to incorporate light therapy into more treatment regimens.

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light box
My bright lightbox

References:

1. Lam R, Levitt A, Levitan R, et al. Efficacy of Bright Light Treatment, Fluoxetine, and the Combination in Patients With Nonseasonal Major Depressive Disorder. JAMA Psychiatry. 2016;73(1):56-63.

2. Even C, Schröder C, Friedman S, et al. Efficacy of light therapy in nonseasonal depression: A systematic review. Journal of Affective Disorders Volume 108, Issues 1-2, May 2008, Pages 11-23.

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