Midday Bright Light Therapy & Its Effect on Bipolar Disorder
Early morning bright light therapy has been used for over 30 years to reduce symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), and other non-seasonal depression. Could that same therapy benefit those with bipolar disorder?
What Is Bipolar Disorder?
Bipolar disorder is a brain disorder characterized by episodes of mood swings ranging from depressive lows to manic highs.
Both bipolar I and II patients spend most of their time on the depressive end of the spectrum, experiencing low energy, anxiety, and disinterest in normal activities. These symptoms mimic those experienced by people suffering from clinical depression, which has been shown to improve with bright light therapy.
Why Midday Bright Light Therapy?
Depressed patients who receive light therapy are typically instructed to sit in front of a 10,000 lux light for 30 minutes at the beginning of the day to reduce depression symptoms. However, early morning light therapy in bipolar patients can trigger a manic episode.
Researchers set out to test the efficacy of midday bright light therapy for bipolar disorder.
In 2017, researchers at The Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University conducted a study with 46 individuals with at least moderate bipolar depression and no hypomanic or manic symptoms.
Participants were randomly split into two groups. The first group received a 7,000 lux bright white light, while the second group was given a 50 lux dim red placebo light.
Both groups were instructed to continue their regular medication.
Light therapy was administered between 12:30 p.m. and 2:30 p.m. every day for six weeks. Patients were placed one foot away from the light for 15 minutes a day the first week.
Exposure was increased by 15 minutes each week until they reached 60 minutes a day.
Those who received the 7,000 lux bright light box showed a decrease in depression symptoms between weeks four and six. They were able to return to work and normal daily function.
The study found that 68 percent of patients using the bright light achieved remission of depression, compared to only 22 percent of patients who received the placebo light.
Researchers concluded that midday bright light therapy could, in fact, benefit bipolar patients.
What Does this Research Mean for Me?
While this is great news for bipolar patients, bright light therapy is considered a medical treatment. At least initially, light therapy should be conducted under the supervision of your doctor, who can treat any potential switch to a manic episode. After it has proven effective with no ill side effects, your doctor may recommend continuing treatment at home.
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