light therapy

Light therapy is an effective treatment for individuals who are experiencing symptoms of seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Promising indications for light therapy include treatment of non-seasonal depression, depression in pregnancy and sleep disorders stemming from dysregulated circadian rhythms.

“There are few effective treatments for bipolar depression. That’s why we’re exploring novel approaches such as light therapy,” says Dorothy Sit, MD, assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh, and a researcher at Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic of UPMC, who is leading an ongoing study in the use of light therapy for treatment of bipolar depression. According to research, people with bipolar depression are especially sensitive to changes in outdoor ambient light and the seasons, and may have suicidal thoughts.

The onset of fall and winter can trigger symptoms similar to seasonal affective disorder (SAD), including:

  • Fatigue
  • Sluggishness
  • Daytime sleepiness
  • Carb cravings
  • Loss of interest
  • Inability to experience pleasure

According to Dr. Sit, light therapy is affordable. Light therapy should not be started without the guidance of a physician. While receiving light therapy it is critical that the patient is monitored closely by their physician. “Patients typically start to feel better within two weeks and should gain the full antidepressant effect by six weeks.” Patients with seasonal depression, SAD, or non-seasonal depression need 45 to 60 minutes.

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Light Therapy Safety

While light therapy is generally safe, patients with bipolar depression also must be on a mood stabilizer or they’ll be at risk for manic episodes, says Dr. Sit. Other possible side effects include headaches, eyestrain, irritation, agitation, and insomnia. These symptoms normally disappear following adjustments in the time and length of treatment.

To participate in the study, call 1-800-436-2461. For information on light boxes, visit the Center for Environmental Therapeutics website.

About Behavioral Health

UPMC Western Psychiatric Hospital provides high-quality, cutting-edge psychiatric and addiction services. We serve all ages of people at all stages of recovery. We provide diagnostic services and treatment for all types of psychiatric and mental health conditions. We serve more than 25,000 patients each year. Our hospital, in Pittsburgh’s Oakland neighborhood, has more than 400 inpatient beds. Western Psychiatric partners academically with the Department of Psychology at the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Medicine. Together they conduct research and clinical trials.