Depression and Light Therapy

Can Light Therapy Help With Bipolar Depression?

Bipolar Depression is a somewhat elusive disorder. What’s even more elusive is whether light therapy is effective or even appropriate in alleviating symptoms of the disorder. To date, little research has come out to prove that light therapy is helpful or unhelpful in minimizing the rapid cycling that is characteristic of people suffering from bipolar disorder.

What Does Science Say?

A recent study was conducted to establish the effectiveness of light therapy in minimizing depression in women with bipolar disorder. The women were initially exposed to 50 lux of red light for a period of two weeks and then they were exposed to higher intensity light of 7,000 lux for an additional two weeks for 15, 30 and 45 minutes each day.

Five of the women were exposed to light at midday and the other four were exposed to light in the morning. The results indicated that three of the four women who were exposed to light in the morning gave mixed results while the fourth patient responded positively with minimal occurrence of depressive symptoms over the four weeks. Two of the five women who were exposed to light at midnight showed fully positive response while the other two required more exposure to light to minimize the depressive symptoms.

The last remaining patient who was exposed to midday light for 45 minutes was still depressed but the symptoms lifted when she was exposed to light in the morning for 30 minutes each day.

What Were the Implications of These Results?

The researchers concluded that patients with bipolar disorder tend to continue experiencing depression when they are exposed to light therapy in the morning.

On the other hand, exposure to light at midday starting with as little as 15 minutes each day can help to alleviate the depressive symptoms associated with bipolar disorder.

Bipolar And the Circadian Rhythm

If you know anything about the winter blues, seasonal depression and mental illness it is that in all these conditions the sleep pattern is usually messed up. The same is true for people with bipolar disorder—they have a hard time sleeping and in effect, they struggle to wake up regular hours to get on with their day.

The circadian rhythm or the internal body clock plays a great role in controlling our sleep pattern. It goes without saying that a disruption of the circadian rhythm means a disruption in your sleep and wake up patterns.

Studies show that an effective way to restore the circadian rhythm to normal is to expose yourself to light preferably in the morning upon waking up. This is why light therapy can be very helpful in alleviating depressive symptoms experienced during the cold winter months when there is little chance for exposure to natural light. This is when we use the term SAD light (Seasonal affective disorder light) as a method to counter symptoms of depression.

However, medical experts caution against exposure to light therapy for people with bipolar. Sometimes, light therapy can trigger manic or depressive episodes in people with this disorder.

Timing Is Everyting

As the research above indicates, light therapy can be helpful to some extent in minimizing depressive states in people with bipolar. However, you need to see when you best respond to light exposure—in the morning or at midday? Exposing yourself to bright light at the wrong time of the day can exacerbate depressive or manic states.