Red Light Therapy for Clinical Depression

How light impacts your mental health


Light plays so many important roles in the human body and it is vital to our well-being. Everyone needs natural light for our body to be healthy and function properly. Light is as essential to the human body as food and water, yet humans are now indoors more often than ever. In fact, the most dominate element of nature that is always overlooked in the modern health paradigm is – light.


Some of the biggest protagonists in the chronic disease epidemic are blue light exposure (over stimulating) at night and lack of natural light in our daily life.


Why use red light therapy?


When we don’t get adequate natural light, it affects every cell and process within our body. Humans were made to use sunlight for optimal health. Healthy light is essential to every cell’s function, and a lack of light can lead to chronic disease and illness.


Lack of sunlight has been known to cause anxiety and depression because not enough sunshine depletes brain serotonin and dopamine levels, and those low levels can lead to disabling mood conditions. Staying indoors for extended periods affects mental well-being. In addition to clinical depression and anxiety, low levels of Serotonin are also associated with depressive disorders like seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a type of mood disorder influenced by the changing daylight hours.

Red light therapy can specifically:

·         Increase sluggish energy levels

·         Support a balanced mood

·         Improve mental clarity and confidence

·         Improve general positivity, calm, and reduce anxiety

·         Reduce seasonal depression (SAD)


While red light therapy devices can have these benefits, it should never replace working with a mental health professional or other treatments for anxiety, depression, or the like.


Using red light therapy for Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)


Seasonal affective disorder is a type of depression that affects approximately 5% of all Americans. Those especially susceptible to seasonal affective disorder, living areas of the country that do not see much natural light during winter months.



You’ve probably heard about “SAD lamps” that mimic the sun with bright, artificial light. These can really brighten a dark space and make it seem like there’s more natural light in your day, but ultimately this is still a hefty dose of blue light, which can throw off your circadian rhythm and cause fatigue and even damage to your delicate eye structures.


Clinical research, in its initial phases, shows that red light has the ability to become a widely used, and safe treatment for clinical forms of depression.


Using red light therapy for depression


Mental health disease such as depression anxiety and bipolar disorder are taking a toll on today’s society. Red light therapy has extraordinary potential in mental health disorders. In a major mental health study conducted in 2018, researchers unanimously concluded that light therapy demonstrated antidepressant properties. These antidepressant properties had a medium to large effect size in patients with major depressive disorder.


In another recent review of all existing studies on red and near-infrared light therapy and depression/anxiety disorders, researchers found that these light therapies offer a “promising treatment” for major depressive disorder, suicidal ideation, anxiety, and traumatic brain injury.


Light Therapy for a Healthy Circadian Rhythm and Restful Sleep


More research is showing how closely mood and sleep disorders are interconnected. Insomnia and other sleep disturbances are a common symptom of depression. Parts of the brain that regulate sleep have also been found to closely affect mood. A 2013 review concluded that “nearly all people suffering from mood disorders have significant disruptions in circadian rhythms and the sleep/wake cycle.”

Beyond the direct treatment of depression and the brain, light therapy research has demonstrated positive results for the treatment of sleep disorders.


Excess artificial light exposure, especially during the wrong times of the day, can throw off your circadian rhythm, and make it difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep at night, even when you’re tired. Natural light treatments are a well-documented treatment to improve sleep quality. You can read the details about the sleep benefits of red-light therapy here.


More Natural Melatonin: One major aspect of light therapy’s sleep benefits is that they’ve been found to increase the body’s natural melatonin production. Many people take melatonin supplements as a first step when trying to regulate their sleep, but this can actually increase dependence and reduce your body’s natural ability to make melatonin hormone. Natural light treatments do the opposite, boosting melatonin, which helps you sleep better.


Other benefits associated with natural light treatments include healthier, clearer skin, natural pain relief, and improved cognitive health, to name just a few.


How Does a Light Therapy Treatment Work?


“Red light therapy”, otherwise known as photobiomodulation, is used to describe natural light treatments that most often include red and near infrared wavelengths. For mental health treatment, NIR wavelengths may be most effective in treating depression, because they can reach deeper into body tissues than red light.


When NIR light from a clinical light therapy device is shined on a person’s head, those wavelengths are actually able to go beyond the surface of the skin and reach the brain and affect brain cells directly. Natural light is absorbed by the mitochondria, which boosts cerebral metabolism, improves neuroplasticity, and decreases inflammation, according to cutting-edge depression research. More natural light for your brain cells has also been found to improve the metabolic capacity of your neurons, increase oxygen consumption, and boost cells’ ATP energy production


How to use red light therapy?


Red light therapy is safe and easy to use for people of all ages. Remember, you will not sweat or feel heat. All you have to do is bask under the light and let the therapeutic red and near-infrared light do all the work for you. The red and near-infrared light will work with your body to reduce pain.

No prescriptions. No medications. No injections. No surgery. Just safe, natural wavelengths of effective, proven light energy.


Light therapy also starts working faster than most other forms of treatment for mental health problems. As noted above, some people report enhanced mood and generally feeling better after just one to a few sessions, with maximal results usually attained after several weeks of consistent use.



Side effects


Some people shouldn’t use light therapy, especially those who:

·         have medical conditions that make eyes sensitive to light

·         take medications, like some antibiotics or antipsychotics, that increase light sensitivity


If you’re considering this therapy, you should consult a doctor if you have any of the following conditions:

·         sensitive skin

·         eye conditions

·         a history of skin cancer


Some people may also experience euphoria or irritability, which is a sign to stop using the device and speak with a doctor.


For those who can use light therapy, there are still potential side effects. Usually, these can be dealt with by adjusting the duration, intensity, or timing of the sessions.


Side effects may include:

·         headaches

·         eyestrain

·         agitation

·         irritability

·         problems with sleeping

·         fatigue

·         blurry vision


You can discuss these side effects with a doctor, but you may also find relief through some simple changes. Avoid using the lamp before bedtime to prevent insomnia, and place the light box further away from you to prevent eyestrain and headaches.


Sources and Additional Information:


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