Shedding light on phototherapy

Bright light therapy resets internal clock  >   You might not believe it if you suffer l11wfrom insomnia, but your body has an internal clock that tells it when it is time to sleep and when it is time to wake. If this clock is faulty you are suffering from what is known as a circadian rhythm sleep disorder, where your natural sleep time overlaps with regular awake activities, such as work or school (circadian means to occur in a cycle of about 24 hours).  These rhythms include body temperature, alertness and the daily cycle of many hormones.

As a factor that sets your internal clock is your exposure to sunlight, light therapy is one method used to treat people with CRSD. The objective is to combine a healthy sleep pattern with your internal clock that is set at the right time, thus allowing you to enjoy the benefits of a good night’s sleep. It is claimed that exposing an insomniac to a special lamp for up to an hour can re-set the clock that is off. But does it work?

The first challenge is establishing that your inability to sleep is due to CRSD rather than a myriad  of other possibilities, ranging from worry and stress, to medication and alcohol. Even if the link is established, the therapy at best it can only be regarded as part of a treatment plan.

If you want to give it a try, your consultant will expose your eyes to intense but safe amounts of light for a specific and regular length of time.l22q

The recommended phototherapy system consists of a set of fluorescent bulbs installed in a box with a diffusing screen, and set up on a table at which you can sit comfortably.  Treatment then consists simply of sitting close to the light box, with lights on and eyes wide open. However, looking directly at the lights is not recommended.  Instead you are encouraged to engage in reading, writing, or even eating. What is important is to orient the head and body toward the lights, concentrating on activities on the surfaces illuminated by the lights, and not on the lights themselves. Treatment sessions can last from 15 minutes to three hours, once or twice a day.

So are there any risks? This technology was originally developed as a cure for winter depression, which has become known as S.A.D (Seasonal  Affective  Disorder). Advocates of this therapy claim blood levels of the light-sensitive hormone melatonin, which may be abnormally high at certain times of day, are rapidly reduced by light exposure. However, there is no proof.

What is known is that light therapy for S.A.D can cause headaches, eyestrain or nausea.  The most significant side effect is a switch to an overactive state, during which one may have difficulty sleeping, become restless or irritable, and feel over-active – hardly the desired effect! Of course, there is an alternative ….

Footnote > If you are an insomniac pensioner, the scholarly papers on this Link will make interesting reading; likewise there are many studies on the effectiveness of  using light therapy to treat depression.l32d


5 thoughts on “Shedding light on phototherapy

  1. Sleepy Joe says:

    So you want me to sit in front of a light box and pay some guy in a white coat oodles of money for the privilege. Dream on! (Which is in fact exactly what I’ll do as there are easier ways to secure a good night’s sleep).

  2. Chally says:

    my worry is skin cancer
    we have all these dire warnings about exposure to sunlight and yet here we have a therapy that wants to give us more

    • Peter Peterson says:

      It is right to doubt any new therapy and I too have concerns that this one does any good. But to be fair, light exposure represents no risk. Most light therapy systems shield out the ultraviolet light that causes tanning. OK, some people with sensitive skin shows reddening under full-spectrum lights, in which case complete UV-blocking, with filters, alternate bulbs, or a sun screen lotion is needed. But this is a far cry from using these light boxes. They are 100% safe, albeit 100% useless!

    • Yelland (Aberdeen) says:

      Exposure to ultraviolet light, including that given off by tanning lamps, can lead to skin cancer. People with SAD should definitely not try to “self-medicate” by exposing their skin to potentially hazardous ultraviolet light. You have been warned.

  3. Ned Trumple says:

    The problem is that sunlight is not available when needed – especially in this country! So why not use artificial light to affect the body clock in the same way that sunlight does.

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