Days filled with sunshine are associated for most people with feeling good, kicking back, and having fun. This association has a biological explanation. Humans need regular exposure to bright light to help regulate mood and sleep cycles, and when individuals don’t get an adequate amount of sunlight, they can often sink into a depression or experience sleep difficulties such as insomnia. For those who can’t get out in the sunshine, light therapy may be the next best thing.
What is Light Therapy?
Light therapy involves the use of bright artificial light to help treat a range of illnesses including depression and sleep difficulty. One disorder in particular, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), is often treated with the use of light therapy. As days get shorter and sunlight less plentiful, many people sink into the blues of SAD, a form of depression triggered by the changes in the season and the lack of light exposure associated with the winter months. For those suffering with SAD, light therapists recommend sitting for between 15 and 20 minutes everyday in front of a light box designed to supply them with bright light similar to the sun.
For those who can’t enjoy the old-fashioned light therapy of sunbathing, there are a few options available to treat a variety of ailments and wellness concerns.
Bright Light Therapy
This form of light therapy is most often used to treat patients with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Generally it is performed by having the patient sit in front of a light box with a minimum of 10,000 lux capacity for between 15 and 20 minutes. The light box provides the patient with a much more concentrated amount of bright light than the standard amount emitted by indoor lighting.
Colored Light Therapy
Colored light can have an intense effect on an individual’s emotional state depending on the shade of color that is used. Colored light therapy combines the philosophies of color and light therapy to effect mood by exposing the skin to various shades of colored light. Those who practice colored light therapy believe that different colors stimulate the release of neurochemicals in the brain.
Cold Laser Therapy
Cold laser therapy has been indicated as a treatment for smoking and weight loss, among other things. A laser is focused on a particular part of the body that corresponds to the problem treated, and in this way it is similar to acupuncture. It is believed that cold laser therapy is able to stimulate the production of serotonin and other neurotransmitters in the brain that are an integral part of maintaining proper emotional health.
Light Therapy and Depression
Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, is a specific depressive disorder triggered by the shorter periods of sunlight in the winter when the days are shorter. Light therapy has been shown to be one of the most effective therapeutic techniques for the relief of SAD. Recent research suggests that light therapy may be helpful for nonseasonal depression as well. As more and more people spend the majority of their days inside, away from sunlight, light therapy may become more and more important as a supplemental therapy for all types of depression.
Light Therapy and Sleep Difficulty
Studies show that light exposure can greatly influence the sleep cycle. Light therapy has been shown to be helpful for regulating the natural body clock when sufficient sunlight is unavailable. One study performed on those with insomnia prone to early morning wakening found that a few light therapy sessions reduced their sleep difficulty and may be a viable treatment option for others with the same issue.
Light Therapy and Emotional Health
Adequate exposure to bright light is essential for maintaining a healthy balance within the body. Light effects the body’s internal clock known as circadian rhythm, which influences sleep cycles and hormone levels. Exposure to bright light can also stimulate neurotransmitter production in the body, and these chemical messengers are responsible for regulating mood and maintaining emotional health.