Light Therapy (also known as phototherapy or bright light therapy) involves being exposed to artificial light under controlled conditions. Depression and sleep disorders can be treated with light therapy using specially-designed light therapy lights. Since the 1980s, light therapy has proven to be successful in helping people with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). There are also many mental health professionals which believe light therapy can also help certain individuals experiencing sleep problems caused by disrupted circadian rhythms.
Our circadian rhythm is tied to the production of melatonin, which is produced in the pineal gland. Melatonin is a naturally occurring hormone that produces “sleep” or “darkness” thereby aiding in sleep regulation. Melatonin production is also directly linked to relieving depression.
Tests reveal that the pineal gland, which is located in the brain, is affected by bright light. The pineal gland is used to regulate our circadian rhythm. Since the circadian rhythm is correlated with sleeping habits, bright light therapy can help in correcting sleep cycles. The pineal gland resides in the brain and responds to light entering the eyes. Melatonin production stops when light passes to the brain through the eyes.
People use light therapy by sitting in front of a light therapy box for 30 minutes to two hours each day. It is best to use light therapy in the morning because light therapy administered later in the day or in the evening can interfere with sleep.
Side effects have been minimal. Some people have at first experienced anxiety, jitteriness, headaches or early awakening. While most of these symptoms disappear within a few days, most can be avoided by starting with a reduced session length or doubling the distance from the light for the first week. Individuals with eye diseases or those using photosensitizing medications should check with their ophthalmologist before starting light therapy.
If you have questions about starting or using light therapy, check out our Using Your Light page for more information.