EVOLVING APPLICATIONS OF LIGHT THERAPY

Sleep Medicine Reviews
December 1, 2007

Michael Terman

The psychiatric intervention, light therapy, grew from an intensive 25-year research focus on seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Dosing and timing strategies have been honed to optimize the antidepressant effect, and efficacy relative to placebo has provided the evidence base for widespread implementation. A persistent question has been whether the model system for SAD has wider utility for psychiatric disturbance, even beyond depression. The circadian phase-shifting capacity of timed light exposure is universal, and chronobiological factors are at play across the disease spectrum. Recent promising initiatives extend to light treatment for nonseasonal major depressive disorder and bipolar depression, including drug- and electroconvulsive therapy-resistant cases. With light therapy, patients with antepartum depression may find an alternative to medication during pregnancy. Cognitive improvement under light therapy has been noted in adult attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Motor function in Parkinson's disease has improved in parallel with the antidepressant effect of light therapy. The rest activity disturbance of elderly dementia has been partially allayed under light therapy. In a new initiative, three major chronotherapeutic inventions light therapy, sleep deprivation (wake therapy) and sleep time displacement (sleep phase advance therapy) are being combined to snap hospitalized patients out of deep depression and maintain long-term improvement.